The Philadelphia based William Penn Foundation, which makes protecting the Delaware River Watershed one of its top priorities, recently announced grants of nearly $2.4 million to 10 groups working in a coordinated way to protect the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer.

“In the past we may have addressed these issues individually, now we have a collective approach,” said Andrew Johnson, Penn’s senior program officer for watershed protection, with groups planning and working together for greater impact.

They are the American Littoral Society, the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, Delaware & Raritan Greenway Land Trust, Natural Lands Trust, Nature Conservancy N.J. Field Office, New Jersey Audubon Society, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, Pinelands Preservation Alliance, Trust for Public Land N.J. Field Office.

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Projects are for preserving specific forested lands, testing new scientific tools for understanding and protecting the aquifer, reducing the withdrawal of water through policy reform and household awareness, preserving farmland, promoting best management practices, and limiting destructive off-road vehicle use.

The New Jersey Conservation Foundation received two grants totaling nearly $715,000 toward its work in the Pine Barrens and the Delaware Bay watershed, and the Highlands (which is outside the Kirkwood-Cohansey area).

“Most of what we will be using money for is land conservation, which is our bread and butter,” said Chris Jage, NJCF’s assistant director for southern New Jersey. NJCF buys land outright and manages and protects it in the Pinelands.

“One of the things about protecting the aquifer is, it protects habitats ... because 90 percent of stream flow is directly from the aquifer. As the aquifer goes, so goes our wetlands,” said Jage.

On the Delaware Bayshore most of the group’s work is on farmland preservation, Jage said.

“The land stays in farmers’ hands, and we purchase the development rights,” he said, adding farmers also agree to soil and water conservation practices.

In Lacey and Ocean Townships, NJCF will use some funds to significantly reduce illegal off-road vehicle traffic in its 4,000-acre Candace Ashmun Preserve at Forked River Mountain, to reduce erosion, stabilize stream corridors and restore habitat.

Jage, who lives in Hammonton and is on the Environmental Commission there, said the NJCF will be working with his hometown soon on a plan to map all conservation easements in town, so they can be monitored and maintained. Retention basins are typically created on conservation easement land, he said, and they are also created for wetlands buffers and to protect endangered species.

“It’s the town’s responsibility to make sure it’s functioning the way a developer said it was going to,” Jage said.

The Kirkwood-Cohansey sub watershed is one of eight georgraphical areas Penn is focusing on, to protect or restore drinking water for 15 million people in the Delaware River Watershed, which covers more than 13,500 square miles in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware, according to the foundation.

The initial investment is expected to protect about 6,500 acres of recharge area, restore 9,000 feet and 300 acres of stream corridor, and conduct an awareness campaign to reduce groundwater consumption by 3 percent, according to the foundation. It should produce measurable trends toward higher quality and groundwater availability by 2017.

Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:

609-272-7219

Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.

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