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William Penn Foundation (WPF) Awards $565,000 Grant to Villanova Urban Stormwater Partnership for Development of Watershed Protection Strategy for Philadelphia

Through this project, Villanova Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Andrea Welker, PE, PhD, will monitor the effectiveness of individual stormwater control measures in three targeted micro-watersheds

Grant part of $35 million investment by WPF in Delaware River watershed to protect drinking water for 15 million people

Andrea Welker

VILLANOVA, Pa. – The William Penn Foundation (WPF) has awarded a $565,000 grant to the Villanova Urban Stormwater Partnership for the development of a watershed protection strategy for Philadelphia. The grant is part of a $35 million multi-year initiative by WPF to protect and restore critical sources of drinking water for 15 million people, many in major cities including New York (N.Y.), Philadelphia (Pa.), Camden (N.J.), and Wilmington (Del.). The total set of grants fund an unprecedented collaboration of leading conservation organizations who will align their work to protect land, restore streams, test innovative approaches in ecologically significant places, and monitor results over time.

The Villanova Urban Stormwater Partnership (VUSP), housed within the Villanova Center for the Advancement of Sustainability in Engineering (VCASE), advances the evolving field of sustainable stormwater management and fosters the development of public and private partnerships through research on innovative Stormwater Control Measures (SCMs), directed studies, technology transfer and education.

As part of this three-year grant project, Villanova University Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Andrea L. Welker, PE, PhD – who conducts her research through VUSP – will monitor the effectiveness of individual stormwater control measures (SCM) in three targeted micro-watersheds: The Pennypack Headwaters, Sandy Run and Tookany Main Stem. This monitoring will be used to inform mathematical modeling of the SCMs, which is critical to understanding the monitoring results. Dr. Welker’s research will be complemented by watershed monitoring and modeling that will be performed by Temple University in the same targeted micro-watersheds, and regional monitoring being performed by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. Temple and Villanova University will be working with local watershed organizations to develop monitoring protocols and train volunteers to perform monitoring across the region. 

"I'm thrilled that the VUSP was selected to be part of this truly transformative effort,” noted Welker. “The partnering of watershed groups with academic institutions is very unique. This entire initiative is a game changer for stormwater management in our region." 

Combined, the array of WPF funded projects will permanently protect more than 30,000 acres with significant waterways, implement more than 40 restoration projects that will improve local water quality, pilot new incentives for landowners and businesses, provide replicable models for other locations in the watershed, and develop long-term water quality data for the watershed at an unprecedented scale. 

The Delaware River watershed covers more than 13,500-square miles spanning New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. In addition to being a major source of drinking water, the watershed supports an array of water-related economic enterprises valued at $25 billion per year, as well as hemispherically significant habitat. Poorly planned development, deforestation, chemical runoff from farms, and storm water runoff in cities severely threaten the health of the watershed.

“Healthy landscapes with working farms and forests in the Delaware River watershed produce abundant food and fiber and support vibrant rural economies. They also provide clean water, clean air, and valuable wildlife habitat that benefit their own communities and urban neighbors,” said Jason Weller, Chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. “This partnership highlights how a cooperative approach for applying conservation activities on private and public land is essential for everyone in the watershed—whether they live in urban or rural areas.”

"EPA values collaborative initiatives like this that help organizations build greater capacity and leverage critical resources needed to tackle the next generation of water protection issues," said EPA Region 3 Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin. "This new initiative will support efforts led by other active partners, such as the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, in advancing science, research and restoration work to protect the entire bay and river watershed. Building healthy and resilient watersheds is essential to protecting our nation's water resources, and ensuring a sustainable future for the communities that depend on them."

"The Delaware River Watershed is a critical resource for communities in New Jersey, New York, and the entire region," said EPA Region 2 Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck. "Every day, millions of people depend upon the watershed as a source of drinking water, for agricultural uses, and for recreation. Preventing pollution from entering the Delaware River and its watershed is the single most effective strategy to ensure that the watershed is protected."

Laura Sparks, Chief Philanthropy Officer of the William Penn Foundation, explained that monitoring data will enable WPF and other foundations to make more informed, evidence-based decisions going forward. Sparks continued, “We are eager to use the data collected to inform real-time adjustments, analyze the potential of these projects across the watershed, and magnify those results to catalyze widespread action grounded in high-quality science."

As a result of the planning work, the initiative features eight “clusters” of sub-watersheds, constituting approximately 25 percent of the total Delaware River Basin across four states, where analysis has shown that investment in targeted efforts to protect or improve water quality in specific streams and rivers could deliver significant returns. Restoration and preservation efforts in these sub-watersheds not only contribute directly to the water quality in the Delaware Basin, but will also serve as incubators for cultivating a wide range of effective approaches for expanding investment across the watershed, and ultimately in other river basins across the country.

Andrew Johnson, Senior Program Officer for Watershed Protection at the William Penn Foundation, stated, “We look forward to making this work and data available to the public and hope to identify new evidence-based methods for avoiding or mitigating key stressors threatening water quality in major metropolitan areas, specifically urban storm water runoff, agricultural pollution, loss of forests in essential headwater areas, and aquifer depletion.”

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others.  There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's five colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing and the Villanova University School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them.