The Healthy Watersheds Consortium Grant Program’s fourth year of awards further accelerates the pace of proactive watershed protection in the U.S., benefitting drinking water supplies, freshwater systems, and floodplains. The program supports working forest and ranchland protection, innovative finance in collaboration with water utilities, and capacity for local and regional watershed groups. New themes this year include collaborations with Soil and Water Conservation Districts, support for community forests, and Sentinel Landscape Partnerships.
The nine awards total $1.52 million and will benefit organizations and partnerships in eight states. The Healthy Watersheds Consortium Grant Program was conceived by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Water (EPA) and launched in late 2015. EPA co-funds the program with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the U. S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities (Endowment), which manages the partnership.
“In partnership with EPA and NRCS, the Endowment is helping local communities protect and better manage the working forests and ranchlands that provide drinking water, rural economic opportunities, and wildlife habitat. One project even helps sustain military readiness by accelerating protection of working lands near Camp Ripley in Minnesota. We are grateful to EPA, NRCS, and our local partners for their vision and collaboration,” said Carlton Owen, the Endowment’s President and CEO.
The Healthy Watersheds Consortium Grant Program’s goal is to “accelerate and expand the strategic protection of healthy, freshwater ecosystems and their watersheds.” EPA and the Endowment each committed $3.75 million and NRCS $3.5 million, to the six-year partnership. In this fourth year of the program, 48 applications requesting $9 million were received.
Grants focus on three categories: 1) short-term funding to leverage larger financing for targeted watershed protection; 2) funds to help build the capacity of local organizations for sustainable, long-term watershed protection; and 3) new techniques or approaches that advance the state of practice for watershed protection and that can be replicated across the country. The awards listed below benefit natural lands as well as working forests, farms, and ranches.
The nine funded proposals are:
Florida: Aucilla River Watershed Conservation Initiative – $171,000 over two years to Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy to 1) complete existing land conservation transactions for high priority properties in the floodplain of the Aucilla watershed in Florida and Georgia, 2) strengthen a coalition of partners, 3) develop a watershed-based land conservation prioritization analysis, 4) secure land protection funds from state and federal sources, and 5) build endowment support for continued long-term investment in protection of the watershed.
Florida: Accelerating Land Protection in Florida’s Santa Fe River Basin – $166,000 awarded to Alachua Conservation Trust (ACT) over two years to support a full-time Coordinator and additional staff capacity to protect land in north Florida’s Santa Fe River basin, a true Florida treasure with over 90 freshwater springs. Healthy Watersheds funding will ensure ACT’s ability to focus and invest existing land conservation funding, coordinate land acquisition and conservation easements, as well as conduct expanded outreach in the Santa Fe River Basin.
Minnesota: Mississippi River Headwaters Watershed Accelerated Land Protection Program – $150,000 awarded over two years to the Beltrami Soil and Water Conservation District. The Mississippi River Headwaters Watershed has some of the highest quality resources in the state of Minnesota. The Beltrami Soil and Water Conservation District and partners developed a forest stewardship protection program to help conserve 75% of the watershed and protect its high-quality natural resources.
Minnesota: Building Capacity for Land Protection in the Camp Ripley Sentinel Landscape – $72,000 for two years to the Morrison Soil and Water Conservation District to hire a private lands biologist. This project directly supports the Camp Ripley Sentinel Landscapes Partnership, which involves the Departments of Defense, Interior, and Agriculture. This position will increase the pace of protection by about 900 acres annually by securing conservation easements and facilitating further contract enhancement plans through various partner programs.
Arkansas: Unlocking Private Finance to Protect Central Arkansas’ Drinking Water – $220,000 over two years to Central Arkansas Water (CAW) to work with World Resources Institute and Encourage Capital to unlock private capital for Lake Maumelle watershed source water protection by leveraging current watershed fees, grant funding, and carbon credits for better access to Program Related investments (PRI) and green bonds. The project will explore a new potential model for other utilities to address their source water protection funding challenges.
Texas: Texas Hill Country Conservation Network: Scaling Conservation in Central Texas – $120,000 over two years to the Hill Country Alliance to grow the regional capacity needed for large-scale, long-term healthy watershed protection across 550,000 acres in the Guadalupe-Blanco river basins in Comal and Hays counties in Central Texas, affecting drinking water and natural resources for millions of Texans. A coalition will accelerate land conservation, build financing models to fund land protection, create a shared regional land conservation strategy, initiate a rapid-response fund for emergent land conservation opportunities, and seek to protect 30,000 acres of key watershed lands in this rapidly urbanizing region.
Montana: Connecting and Supporting MT Stakeholder Enrollment in Protection Programs – $199,000 over two years to the Montana Conservation Corps to increase landowner engagement through its Ranching for Rivers and Croplands to Grasslands Programs within the Missouri River Watershed. The initiative will support implementation of effective, community-driven grazing plans and common-sense-driven stewardship of native grasslands with a long-term goal of securing perpetual conservation easements along 1 million acres of riparian corridors throughout the plains of Central and Eastern Montana.
California: Healthy Watersheds California – $225,000 over two years to Pacific Forest Trust to develop the policies, technical assessments, implementation plans, and financing needed to restore California’s key source watersheds. The project aims to improve the climate resilience and reliability of the state’s water supply system through landscape-scale restoration and conservation, increasing water security for millions of Californians, and protecting critical wildlife habitat. This grant will help leverage private and public capital to enable the comprehensive protection and stewardship of these forested watersheds, defining these 7 million acres as essential infrastructure for the state’s water system.
Oregon: Oregon Coast Community Forest Initiative- $200,000 over two years to Sustainable Northwest to build capacity to help protect up to 50 municipal drinking water source areas along Oregon’s Coast. Partners will map, plan, and implement conservation transactions including community forests as a tool for watershed protection. The initiative will also help inform and contribute to the development of a 100-year resilient water strategy for the State of Oregon.
For more information on the Healthy Watersheds Consortium Grant Program, visit: https://www.usendowment.org/what-we-do/non-traditional-markets/healthy-watersheds-consortium/