Bay Journal

Small Watershed Grants may not be so small in the future

Increased funding would allow organizations to maintain projects for a longer period of time, improving the likelihood of their success

  • By Lara Lutz on January 01, 2007

Grants made through the Chesapeake Bay Small Watershed Grants Program may get a bit bigger in the future.

A recently completed evaluation of the grants program by the nonprofit National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which administers it for the Bay Program, concluded that larger grants would help organizations complete more effective projects.

The upcoming changes to the program, which will distribute about $3 million to local organizations and communities this year, aim to help groups monitor and maintain projects for longer periods of time to improve the likelihood of success.

“We’re looking to become true project partners, not just a black box you apply to for money,” said Amanda Bassow, program manager at the NFWF.

Bassow said that the foundation initiated the recent evaluation because the time was right for self-scrutiny.

“The program has matured over the years, and we were ready to take a look to see if we are as effective as we could be,” Bassow said.

Since the late 1990s, the Small Watershed Grants Program has provided $20.3 million for 612 projects such as streamside forest buffers, shoreline restorations, farm stewardship practices and low-impact development techniques, which reduce pollution in the Bay’s tributaries.

The EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provide most of the funding, with additional contributions from the USDA Forest Service and National Resource Conservation Service, Chesapeake Bay Trust, Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment, and Western Pennsylvania Watershed Program.

The study, conducted by the consulting firm GHK International, explored all of the projects that were funded and completed between 1999 and 2005. They involved a range of activities, such as community planning, restoration and conservation activities, stakeholder involvement and public outreach.

Evaluators visited approximately half of the project sites and interviewed grant recipients on everything from the application process to their ability in achieving and maintaining results.

They found that the grant recipients generally design good projects, but fall short on long-term maintenance. In many cases, the resources aren’t there to support it.

“Buffer projects are a prime example,” Bassow said. “With any planting, you can expect that a fair number of trees won’t survive, and you’ll need to replace them. And you can’t just remove invasive plants once. You have to keep pulling them.”

Long-term success also means involving every group that can help a project along or potentially stand in its way. Evaluators found that, in some cases, key groups were left out.

“A classic example is the anglers group that stands on the streambank and tramples your new trees,” Bassow said. “But if they’d known what was going on, that same anglers group would have been more than happy to not trample the trees, and probably would have helped to plant them.”

Developers and the real estate community are also vital players.

“They need to be involved in projects so that you don’t find yourself with opposition you can’t manage,” Bassow said.

The study also revealed that most Small Watershed Grants support one piece of a larger project. By offering more long-term support, the program can ensure that smaller, individual projects work together to reap water quality benefits more effectively.

Three major changes are coming as a result of the evaluation.

Grantees will be able to apply for larger grants. The 2007 limit will be approximately $200,000, up from $100,000 in previous years.

“We will have a larger number of large grants, and a smaller number of small grants,” Bassow said.

Grantees also will receive more support for project planning, including technical advice and stakeholder outreach, from other nonprofit organizations and government agencies.

Those receiving larger grants will have a longer time frame, ranging from two to three years, to complete their work. Previously, the project period for all grantees was 12–18 months.

Bassow will also encourage grantees to address problems up front and pair the organizations with program partners that can help solve them.

“We want to promote a network of shared learning, without folks being afraid that their funds will get cut if they need a course-correction midstream,” Bassow said. “It’s a change from running a grants program to running a restoration program. The grants are just the tool.”

Applications for the 2007 Small Watershed Grants are due in March. For application information, and notice of web-cast workshops to help prepare an application, visit www.nfwf.org/chesapeake.

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About Lara Lutz

Lara Lutz is a writer and editor who lives on the South River in Mayo, MD. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Read more articles by Lara Lutz

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