Chi–Cal Rivers Fund 2016 Request for Proposals

Proposal Due Date: Wednesday, July 27 by 11:00 PM Central Time


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 public-use opportunities. Up to $1.7 million is expected to be available for grant awards. Individual grants will range from $100,000 to $300,000. Applications must be submitted online ( by 11:00 PM Central Time on July 27, 2016.


The Chicago and Calumet watersheds comprise a highly engineered system of waterways that provide many benefits to the region — they provide capacity for managing flood waters; they provide economically important conduits for commercial shipping, tourism and recreational boating; they provide vital habitats for many resident and migratory wildlife species. Despite these services, the waterways have been degraded by many stressors. Dangerous flooding, impaired water quality, habitat degradation, and limited safe public access have significantly reduced 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, The Chicago Community Trust, Crown Family Philanthropies, Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Joyce Foundation, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and 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.

In this way, the Fund helps to advance the goals of the Millennium Reserve, 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, and other ongoing efforts designed to restore the health, vitality and accessibility of the waterways of the Chicago and Calumet region. Applicants are encouraged to align their proposed projects with those efforts and demonstrate how they would complement and connect to other previous and ongoing work in the region.


To be eligible for funding, projects must occur within the Eligible Project Area depicted in Map 1. A more-detailed interactive map can be viewed by clicking here. Priority will be given to projects that directly benefit the following waterways:

  • Chicago River and tributaries in Illinois
  • North Shore Channel
  • Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal
  • Bubbly Creek
  • Calumet Sag Channel
  • Calumet River
  • Grand Calumet River
  • Little Calumet River
  • Burns Ditch

Some of the available grant funding must be directed to projects in Northwest Indiana.

Chi-Cal Rivers Fund Geographic Focus Map.jpg

Map 1. Geographic focus of the Chi-Cal Rivers Fund.


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

  1. Green Stormwater Infrastructure
  2. Habitat Enhancement
  3. Public-Use Improvement

Each applicant will need to identify the 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. Projects that span multiple categories tend to be more competitive. The following sections provide more information on the three funding categories.

Funding Category 1: Green Stormwater Infrastructure

Within the Chicago and Calumet region, as in many developed areas, stormwater runoff often causes urban flooding, and it impairs water quality by carrying petrochemicals, road salts, excess nutrients, sediments and other contaminants into local waterways. Large volumes of runoff discharged during storms further degrade habitat by scouring channels and eroding streambanks. In areas with combined sewer systems, particularly serious problems occur during large storms, when municipal sewer capacities are exceeded and the combined flow of stormwater and sewage is discharged directly into waterways to prevent sewers from back-flowing into buildings. In addition to causing property damage, combined sewer overflows pose a significant public health risk from bacterial contamination. 

To address these issues, this category will direct funding to green infrastructure projects that increase on-site stormwater capture and storage. Competitive projects will occur in close proximity or otherwise demonstrate benefits to the major waterways of the system, as listed under the Geographic Focus section. Preference will be given to projects of sufficient size and scope to significantly reduce runoff into sewer systems and contaminant discharge to local waterways. Small, isolated projects (e.g., a single, small parking lot) without a connection to a larger green infrastructure plan will not be competitive. Summaries of projects funded previously can be viewed here.

Funding Category 2: Habitat Enhancement

The Chicago and Calumet region provides critical stopover habitat for many migratory birds and supports dozens of resident fish, wildlife and plants listed as threatened or endangered. However, much of the aquatic habitat in the region is highly impaired. Silt or sludge is the primary substrate in many waterways, and few riverbeds have the sand or gravel required for spawning by many fish. Many riverbanks are riprap or vertical walls that separate riparian areas from their watercourses. Overhanging canopy cover is virtually absent in many areas, providing little shade for moderating water temperatures and minimal habitat structure for birds and other wildlife.

Funding in this category will support on-the-ground riparian and in-stream habitat improvements along or near the major waterways of the system, as listed under the Geographic Focus section. Competitive projects will improve habitat connectivity, reduce erosion, improve water quality, and add habitat complexity for the purpose of generating healthier fish and wildlife populations. Summaries of projects funded previously can be viewed here.

Funding Category 3: Public-Use Improvement

With its system of working channels, the Chicago and Calumet region has a legacy of limited public access and recreation along its banks and on its waterways. With relatively few opportunities to enjoy outdoor experiences linked to local rivers and streams, many residents lack a physical connection and personal appreciation of the region’s waters. However, new initiatives are underway to enhance the public-use benefits associated with the system, and local officials and regional planners have undertaken efforts to improve access, connectivity, and use of water resources and riparian areas. 

Funding in this category will help advance these efforts by supporting improvements in public access, trails, and community green space in close proximity to the major waterways of the system, as listed under the Geographic Focus section. Competitive projects will improve opportunities for public uses such as fishing, boating, walking and hiking, generate economic benefits associated with these uses, and improve the natural aesthetics of underserved neighborhoods. Summaries of projects funded previously can be viewed here.


To better gauge progress on individual grants and to ensure greater consistency between the monitoring data provided by multiple grant projects, applicants will be asked to describe proposed project activities and outcomes in terms of standardized metrics, shown in the table on the following page. Applicants are encouraged to use the metrics listed, but they may also specify other metrics as needed. Only metrics relevant to the project being proposed should be selected in the application. Applicants will be required to report project accomplishments in terms of the metrics they select.

Applicants submitting proposals in the Public-Use Improvement category should use the proposal narrative to describe how they will evaluate outcomes in terms of public use. For example, applicants proposing improvements in trails or access points should describe how they plan to measure the increase in the number of people hiking, walking, fishing or boating.

Each proposal should 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. 

​Funding Category ​Recommended Metrics
​Green Stormwa​​ter Infrastructure
  • Square feet of impervious surface retrofitted with green infrastructure
  • Square feet of bioretention installed
  • Square feet of green roof installed
  • Number of rain barrels/cisterns
  • Number of trees planted
  • Gallons of stormwater storage added (measured as design retention capacity for a 100-year 24-hour storm)
  • Reduction in stormwater volume (gallons) leaving the project site (measured as design retention capacity for a 100-year 24-hour storm)
​Habitat Enhancement
  • Feet (to be converted into miles) riparian habitat restored
  • Acres of riparian habitat restored
  • Feet (to be converted into miles) of in-stream habitat restored
  • Number of in-stream habitat structures installed
  • Lbs sediment avoided (annually)
  • Improvement in habitat quality indices (e.g., floristic quality index, macroinvertebrate biotic integrity indices) 
​Public-Use Improvement
  • Feet (to be converted into miles) of trails developed/improved
  • Number of public access points developed/improved
  • Acres of neighborhood green space (e.g., parklands) created/improved


Eligible and Ineligible Entities

  • Eligible applicants include non-profit 501(c) organizations, state government agencies, local governments, municipal governments, Indian tribes, 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

  • Grant funds and matching contributions may not be used to support political advocacy, fundraising, lobbying, litigation, terrorist activities or Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations.
  • Grant 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. 


Up to $1.7 million is expected to be available for grant awards in 2016. Individual grant awards will range from $100,000 to $300,000.


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 to be accomplished, all requested funds are spent, and all matching funds are spent or applied.


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. More information about using indirect costs as match can be found here.


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, likely sources of funding, long-term partners, parties responsible for implementation and oversight, and their capacity for long-term stewardship of the project. 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.


All proposals will be screened for relevance, accuracy, completeness and compliance with organizational and funding source policies. Then, the Chi-Cal Rivers Fund advisory team and a panel of state and federal agency reviewers will use the following criteria as a strong basis for project selections. Project selections may also be based on other considerations, such as availability of funding, geographic balance, and balance among project types and grant size.

Strategic Value

  • Program goals: Project aligns with program goals and has specific, quantifiable performance metrics to evaluate project success. Project addresses one or more of the funding categories.
  • Landscape context: Project occurs in close proximity to or otherwise demonstrates benefits to the major waterways of the system, as listed under the Geographic Eligibility section. Green infrastructure installation is located in flood-prone areas identified as priorities by government units or approved land-use or watershed plans.
  • Plan alignment: Project advances an existing local, regional, tribal, state or federal plan or strategy.
  • Technical merit: Project is technically sound and feasible, and the proposal sets forth a clear, logical and achievable work plan and timeline. Project engages appropriate technical experts throughout project planning, design and implementation.

Project Costs

  • Budget: Costs are allowable, reasonable and budgeted in accordance with NFWF’s Budget Instructions cost categories.  Federally-funded projects must be in compliance with OMB Uniform Guidance as applicable (OMB Uniform Guidance).
  • Matching contributions: Project offers matching contributions that will enhance and leverage the impact of a grant award. Projects that meet or exceed a 1:1 match ratio will be more competitive.


  • Organizational capacity: Applicant organization demonstrates capacity and experience commensurate with the scale of the project being proposed and the funding requested.
  • Past success: Project team has a proven track record of success in implementing practices with specific, measurable results.
  • Partnerships: Project is supported by strong partnerships that leverage additional resources and expertise.


  • On-the-ground implementation: Project will apply the bulk (>70%) of grant funding to on-the-ground work, with the option of using the remaining funds for planning, permitting, final design, engineering, outreach or education.
  • Timeliness: Project has completed or nearly completed planning, design and engineering to the extent that on-the-ground implementation can begin shortly after the grant is awarded. 

Evaluation and Maintenance

  • Monitoring: Project includes plans to monitor progress during and after implementation to track project success and adaptively address new challenges and opportunities.
  • Long-term sustainability: Project will be maintained to ensure benefits are achieved and sustained over time. Plans described in the proposal include how future funding will be secured to implement necessary long-term monitoring and maintenance activities.


  • Communication: Project includes a communication strategy for notifying relevant communities and audiences about the project after completion.
  • Scalability: Project has the potential to catalyze additional efforts in communities or settings where it has not been broadly deployed, including underserved neighborhoods.


Grants will be supported variously with funding from private, federal, state, and local government sources. Grant funding will be allocated to selected projects based on the intended uses, restrictions, and requirements associated with each funding source. All grantees will be required to submit interim and final financial and programmatic reports, but additional regulatory and reporting requirements may apply depending on the source(s) of the funding directed to any individual grant.

Projects selected to receive federal funding may be subject to requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, and National Historic Preservation Act. Documentation of compliance with these regulations must be approved prior to initiating work under the grant. In addition, if a project involves monitoring, data collection or data use, the grantee may be asked to prepare and submit quality assurance documentation. Federally funded projects must comply with OMB Uniform Guidance as applicable.

In addition to other standard NFWF reporting requirements, recipients of funding from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources will be required to provide the following documentation:

  1. Listing of all permits, licenses, and approvals needed to comply with all health, safety and environmental statues, rules and regulations;
  2. Copies of any bid documents;
  3. Proof of payment to all hired vendors and/or employees;
  4. For Force Account labor used: copies of timesheets and documentation of wages;
  5. All applicable and approved State of Illinois Department of Natural Resources Comprehensive Environmental Review Process (CERP) forms;
  6. Certification that all terms and provisions of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s Purchasing Act and the Prevailing Wage Act as applicable were followed.

Applicants should budget time and resources to complete these tasks accordingly.


Dates of activities are subject to change. Please check the Program page of the NFWF website for the most current dates and information (

  • Grant Application Webinar: June 22, 10:00 AM Central Time
  • Proposal Due Date: July 27, 11:00 PM Central Time
  • Review and Approval Period: July 28 – December 4
  • Awards Announced: December 5 – December 9

After project selection, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation staff will work with applicants to prepare grant agreements and other necessary paperwork, all of which will be completed electronically using the Easygrants system. Additional information about the grantee’s organization and its finances may be solicited during this time. Please note the preparation of grant agreements will require approximately 2 to 6 weeks from the time the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation receives the additional required information from the grantee.

Once grant agreements are finalized, funds will typically be paid to grantees on a reimbursable basis. Funds may be advanced to qualified grantees on an as-needed basis.


Fund partners will host a webinar on June 22, 2016 at 10:00 AM Central Time. The webinar will provide: additional information about funding priorities and the application process; examples of past projects; tips for submitting competitive proposals; and answers to participant questions. Prospective applicants are strongly encouraged to participate. Webinar participants can register at: 


All application materials must be submitted online through National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Easygrants system.

  1. Go to to register in our Easygrants online system. New users to the system will be prompted to register before starting the application (if you already are a registered user, use your existing login). Enter your applicant information.
  2. Once on your homepage, click the “Apply for Funding” button and select this RFP’s “Funding Opportunity” from the list of options.
  3. Follow the instructions in Easygrants to complete your application. Once an application has been started, it may be saved and returned to later for completion and submission.


A Tip Sheet is available for quick reference while you are working through your application. This document can be downloaded by here.

Additional information to support the application process can be accessed on the NFWF website here.

For more information or questions about this RFP, please contact:

For issues or assistance with our online Easygrants system, please contact:

Easygrants Helpdesk
Voicemail: 202-595-2497
Hours: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM ET, Monday–Friday
Provide: your name, proposal ID #, e-mail address, phone number, grant program name, and a description of the issue.