Home > News > Blog > Amy Blaymore Paterson > Enhancing Connecticut’s OSWA Program: A Path to Greater Land Conservation and Urban Greenspace Projects


Drone image of farm field with light pink cloudy mist on the right

As we reflect on the progress and future of land conservation in Connecticut, we at the CLCC are excited to share updates on the Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program (OSWA). Since its establishment in 1998, OSWA, administered by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), has been a cornerstone of Connecticut’s land conservation efforts, investing over $141 million to protect 40,000+ acres through more than 610 land conservation projects. This vital program also encompasses the Urban Green and Community Garden Grant Program (UGCG), which has allocated over $2.5 million to support community garden and green space development in our state’s most underserved municipalities.

Despite the robust participation and strong demand for funding, there is a clear need to make these programs even more accessible and effective for all communities. CLCC prioritizes this goal as part of our annual advocacy to protect OSWA and UGCG funding sources and ensure that DEEP has the staff to administer the programs effectively and efficiently.

Legislative Advances for Broader Access and Impact

Our work as members of the State Natural Heritage, Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Review Board (“Review Board”)—an independent advisory group of volunteers appointed per statute by the Governor and the leadership of the House and Senate—has been crucial in advancing legislative changes to OSWA and UGCG.

Last year, CLCC advocated successfully for a Review Board recommendation to amend the OSWA statute to allow applicants to better leverage multiple funding sources for their land conservation projects. This year, thanks to the dedicated efforts of Representative Joe Gresko and other legislative champions, key changes to OSWA were approved by the Connecticut General Assembly, including:

  • Expansion of UGCG Eligibility: Environmental justice communities are now included, doubling the number of municipalities eligible for the program.
  • Non-Profit Eligibility: Non-profit organizations can now apply for UGCG, broadening the scope of potential projects.
  • Reimbursement for Due Diligence Expenses: OSWA-funded projects can now receive reimbursements for essential preliminary expenses like appraisals, surveys, and environmental assessments.
  • Environmental Justice Representation: Two new seats have been added to the Review Board to represent environmental justice communities.
  • Increased Maximum Award for EJ Communities: The maximum OSWA award for projects in environmental justice communities has been raised to 75% of the property’s fair market value. (P.A. 24-69)

These changes, developed in collaboration with the Review Board and DEEP’s Land Acquisition and Management Office (LAM), are designed to lower barriers and provide more substantial incentives for land trusts and municipalities to engage in conservation and green space projects.

Administrative Changes to Strengthen Program Accessibility

Governor Lamont’s Executive Order No. 21-3 established the Connecticut Equity and Environmental Justice Advisory Council (CEEJAC), where CLCC’s Senior Project Specialist, Yaw Owusu Darko, serves as Chair of the Land Subcommittee. CEEJAC’s mission is to advise DEEP on its programs and policies related to environmental justice, pollution reduction, climate resilience, and more. In alignment with this mission, we have worked closely with LAM to propose administrative changes to the OSWA and UGCG application and scoring criteria. These adjustments aim to expand conservation opportunities in urban environments and reduce barriers to open space for all communities.

Ensuring Inclusive Conservation

Our active roles on the Review Board and CEEJAC allow CLCC to bridge legislative action, administrative improvements, and on-the-ground conservation efforts. By advocating for and implementing these changes, we are making strides toward a more inclusive and impactful conservation landscape in Connecticut.

Photo Credit: Woody Campbell

Amy Blaymore Paterson
Executive Director
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Yaw Owusu Darko
Project Specialist
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