The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) has awarded a coalition of partners in Delaware a $110,042 grant to develop an economic valuation and management plan for natural resources in the Mispillion and Cedar Creek watersheds.
The award from this highly competitive national grant program will support development of an evidence-based appraisal of the watersheds’ resources. The study will assess both the economic value of the region’s natural resources to local communities and the watersheds’ vulnerability to hazards such as sea level rise.
Ultimately, the findings will inform a nature-based investment strategy that will promote economic opportunity and community resilience in the town of Slaughter Beach and the city of Milford, which will both provide matching funds or in-kind support for the project.
“We saw a clear need for action and also an opportunity to explore the economic benefits that these wetlands, waterways, and habitats bring to Milford and Slaughter Beach,” said Slaughter Beach Mayor Kathy Lock.
The Mispillion River and Cedar Creek watersheds have some of the region’s most vital natural resources and some of the last remaining large tracts of undisturbed land in Delaware. They are located within an internationally recognized flyway for migrating birds and one of the most productive horseshoe crab spawning areas in the world. The area is under pressure from development and climate change, which has increased the risk of flooding in Slaughter Beach and Milford.
The combination of valuable natural resources and increasing threats to those ecosystems led many organizations to invest in the project. In addition to the NFWF grant, Slaughter Beach and Milford, the project has also received matching funding or in-kind support from the Pew Charitable Trusts, Sussex County and Delaware Sea Grant for a total of $220,090 committed to the project.
“If we do not act soon and take a holistic approach to managing these resources, their true value to Delaware will be lost,” said I.G. Burton, councilman for Sussex County Council District 3. “But first, we need to understand what that value is.”
What began as an informal exchange of ideas last February about how to value and manage the region’s natural resources quickly blossomed into a broad coalition calling itself the Waterways Infrastructure and Investment Network (WIIN). WIIN comprises the Resilient and Sustainable Communities League (RASCL), the city of Milford, the town of Slaughter Beach, Sussex County, Kent County, and Pew. RASCL is a network of organizations and state agencies working to improve the capacity of Delaware’s communities to thrive in the face of changing environmental conditions. RASCL members represented on WIIN are the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, Delaware Sea Grant, University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center, Delaware Nature Society, and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC).
“I am thrilled that we were able to assemble such a committed group of partners,” says Danielle Swallow, coastal hazards specialist at Delaware Sea Grant, who will serve as project manager. “This is the first time RASCL has applied for a federal grant on behalf of Delaware communities, and our success in this competitive nationwide grant program shows the benefit of our network.”
The Partnership for the Delaware Estuary will serve as fiscal and administrative officer for the two-year grant project, which is expected to formally begin in early 2021. Preliminary work on the economic appraisal has commenced, thanks to funding assistance by Pew.
As the non-profit and governmental agencies begin their work, the communities of the Mispillion and Cedar Creek watersheds are looking forward to receiving data and information that will help them plan the kind of future they want, for their people and for the environment where they live, work and play.
“This is a win-win approach that will greatly benefit our communities,” said Milford Mayor Archie Campbell. “I look forward to working with our partners to develop a vision for the future.”