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Chi-Cal Rivers Fund

Grants to Illinois and Indiana Nonprofits,
Agencies, and IHEs to Improve Water Quality

Agency Type:

Foundation / Corporation

Funding Source:

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National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF)

LOI Date:


Deadline Date:

07/19/18 10:59 PM CT


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Grants to Illinois and Indiana nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and educational institutions to improve watershed quality in the Chicago and Calumet region. Pre-proposals are due May 15. Priorities include enhancing habitat quality, improving public access, and expanding green stormwater infrastructure.


The Chi–Cal Rivers Fund (Fund) is inviting applications for competitive grant funding. With a focus on the major waterways of the Chicago and Calumet region, the program will award grants to reduce stormwater runoff with green infrastructure, enhance fish and wildlife habitat, and improve access to and use of natural areas.


The Chicago and Calumet Rivers are part of a highly engineered system of waterways that nonetheless provide many benefits and services to the region. They offer capacity for managing flood waters, serve as economically important conduits for commercial shipping, tourism and recreational boating, and provide vital habitats for many resident and migratory wildlife species. However, the waterways have also been degraded by many stressors. Today, dangerous flooding, impaired water quality, habitat degradation, and limited safe public access significantly reduce many of the ecological, economic and community values of the system.

To help restore these values, a team of private and public organizations established the Chi-Cal Rivers Fund. Administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the Fund is a partnership among ArcelorMittal, BNSF Railway, The Chicago Community Trust, the Crown Family, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service. The Fund achieves its impact by supporting projects focused on three goals: 1) reducing stormwater runoff with green infrastructure; 2) enhancing fish and wildlife habitat; and 3) improving public-use opportunities and access to natural areas.

The Fund supports projects that advance the goals of the Cook County Stormwater Management Plan, the City of Chicago Green Stormwater Infrastructure Strategy, the Grand Calumet River Area of Concern Remedial Action Plan, GO TO 2040, the Marquette Plan, the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan, Our Great Rivers and other ongoing strategies designed to restore the health, vitality and accessibility of the waterways in Chicago and the Calumet region. Applicants are encouraged to align their proposed projects with those regional efforts and demonstrate how they would complement and connect to other previous and ongoing work in the region.

Geographic Focus:

To be eligible for funding, projects must occur in close proximity to or otherwise demonstrate direct benefits to the major waterways of the system and their tributaries (depicted in the program map). Some of the available grant funding must be directed to projects in Northwest Indiana.

Program Priorities:

With an emphasis along the major waterways of the system, the Fund will award grants in the following three categories.

1. Expanding Green Stormwater Infrastructure
2. Enhancing Habitat Quality
3. Improving Public Access

Each applicant will need to identify one category that best describes the proposed project. If a project is expected to yield benefits in multiple categories, an applicant may also identify any relevant secondary categories. The following sections provide more information on the three funding categories.

Funding Category 1:  Expanding Green Stormwater Infrastructure 

Funding in this category will support green infrastructure (GSI) projects that improve stormwater capture and storage to reduce runoff, improve water quality, and improve aquatic environments. Eligible work includes: 1) installing new GSI; and 2) new this year, maintaining and improving the function of existing GSI installations. Competitive projects will occur in close proximity or otherwise demonstrate direct benefits to priority waterways, as indicated in the Geographic Focus section. Projects must add a minimum of 50,000 gallons of stormwater storage capacity to be competitive. Preference will be given to projects of sufficient size and scope to significantly reduce runoff and contaminant discharge (i.e. reduction of nutrients, pollution, and sediment) and increase GSI function at a regional or significant scale (gallons). Proposals seeking funds for maintenance of GSI at multiple sites should outline their authority to maintain those sites. Small, isolated projects (e.g., a single parking lot) without a connection to a larger green infrastructure plan will not be competitive. Additional preference will be given to projects using native plant and tree species designed to improve habitat for native pollinators and to diversify the urban canopy. Applicants are encouraged to build in training/capacity needs to maintain projects after the life of the grant.

All applications must report anticipated outcomes in terms of gallons of stormwater storage capacity added (design retention capacity) and estimate the volume of stormwater runoff captured and infiltrated per year (gallons/year). Applicants are encouraged to use the EPA storm water calculator tool, found by clicking here, to estimate design retention capacity. For tree planting projects, applicants are encouraged to use i-Tree, found by clicking here, to calculate gallons of storm water taken up annually by tree planting projects (use a 10-year tree age for measuring stormwater benefits in i-Tree).

Funding Category 2:  Enhancing Habitat Quality

Funding in this category will support riparian and in-stream habitat improvements along or near the major waterways of the system listed under the Geographic Focus section. Competitive projects will improve water quality, reduce erosion, and add increase the complexity, connectivity and quality of habitat. Priority will be given to projects that improve native/natural habitat, benefit species of concern, and encourage biodiversity and maintain healthy native populations.

Funding Category 3:  Improving Public Access

Funding in this category will support improvements in public access and the use of natural areas, trails, and community green space in close proximity to the major waterways of the system listed under the Geographic Focus section. Priority will be given to projects that create and enhance natural spaces and improve public access for active and passive recreation in underserved neighborhoods.  Projects should incorporate native habitat restoration and/or green stormwater infrastructure elements.

Long-Term Operation, Maintenance and Monitoring:

To help ensure project benefits will be sustained through time, grantees will be required to present or develop plans that address project site operation and management needs for at least five (5) years after project completion. The plans should describe anticipated actions needed (maintenance schedules and tasks to be completed at scheduled intervals), cost estimates, sources of funding to support long-term maintenance plan, long-term partners, parties responsible for implementation and oversight, training needs, and the applicant’s and partners’ capacity for long-term stewardship of the project. If applicable, the plan should also describe long term invasive species management and early detection rapid response (EDRR) protocol. A portion of individual grant awards may be used to support plan development, and plans must be completed prior to the end dates specified in individual grant agreements.

Priority will be given to projects that use the proposal narrative to describe a monitoring plan to measure the outcomes and assess the success of the proposed project. At a minimum, the description should: 1) indicate the metrics that will be used to track progress and quantify outcomes; 2) outline the approach for establishing baseline conditions against which post-implementation conditions will be compared; and 3) demonstrate plans and resources for post-implementation monitoring.

Applicants may use grant funding to support monitoring activities associated with the proposed project within the proposed grant period. Applicants are encouraged to direct 5–10 percent of the project budget toward this need. Some projects, particularly those proposing experimental techniques, may warrant using a larger amount of the project budget for monitoring.

GrantWatch ID#:

GrantWatch ID#: 144631

Estimated Total Program Funding:


Estimated Size of Grant:

Individual grant awards will range from $100,000 to $300,000.

Term of Contract:

Anticipated completion time for funded projects will typically be two (2) years following finalization of a grant agreement. Projects may be a discrete part of a longer-term project, provided there are definable outcomes for the proposed phase of the overall effort. The project narrative should include a clear timetable or schedule for project completion. Project start and end dates should define the period during which all proposed work is accomplished, all requested funds are spent, and all matching contributions are spent or applied.

Additional Eligibility Criteria:

Eligible and Ineligible Entities:
-Eligible applicants include nonprofit 501(c) organizations, state government agencies, local governments, municipal governments, tribal governments, and educational institutions. To be competitive, applicant organizations must demonstrate capacity and experience commensurate with the scale of the project being proposed and the funding being requested.
-Ineligible applicants include federal government agencies, unincorporated individuals, and private for-profit businesses.

Ineligible Uses of Grant Funds:
-NFWF funds and matching contributions may not be used to support political advocacy, fundraising, lobbying, litigation, terrorist activities or Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations.
-NFWF funds may not be used to support ongoing efforts to comply with legal requirements, including permit conditions, mitigation and settlement agreements. However, grant funds may be used to support projects that enhance or improve upon existing baseline compliance efforts. 

Pre-proposal Conference:

A recorded webinar providing technical assistance for submitting Chi-Cal Rivers Fund proposals can be viewed anytime. The webinar provides: an overview of the Easygrants portal and application process; tips for preparing and submitting your application; and an overview of frequently asked questions.

Applicants may view the webinar recording here:

Pre-Application Information:

The ratio of matching contributions offered to grant funding requested is one criterion considered during the review process, and projects that meet or exceed a 1:1 match ratio will be more competitive. Matching contributions may include cash, in-kind contributions of staff and volunteer time, work performed, materials and services donated, or other tangible contributions to the project objectives and outcomes. The cost of land acquisition or easement may also qualify as match for a project involving work at the protected site. In addition, eligible indirect costs (that would not be paid with requested grant funding) may be applied as match.

-​Pre-Proposal Due Date: May 15, 10:59 PM Central Time
​-Full Proposal Due Date: ​July 19, 10:59 PM Central Time
​-Review and Approval Period: ​July 11 – November 1
​-Awards Announced: Early November

Budget Instructions:

Contact Information:

Before starting your grant application, please review the funding source's website listed below for updates/changes/addendums/conferences/LOIs.

Apply Online:

Aislinn Gauchay , Program Director, Great Lakes

Traci Giefer, Program Manager, Great Lakes

Grant Coverage Areas:

Chicago and Calumet region

URL for Full Text (RFP):

Geographic Focus:

USA: Illinois;   Indiana