About Island Waters Institute

Our Vision Statement

There be a greater reverence, conservation, and stewardship of our planet’s vital water systems.

Our Mission Statement

To educate the public about the value and restoration of water and nature through experience, informative and entertaining venues resulting in actions causing the availability of clean water where it is needed, as well as the restoration and conservation of water throughout the globe.

The Tenets of Our Mission

  • To create a nature-based museum that is a fun, friendly, educational resource concerning water and its supply designed to make society more aware of the need to protect the environment and to teach respect for water, the importance of protection, and how to retain a clean and ample water supply.
  • We will work within our community to provide entertaining and accessible programs that engage the public and ignite curiosity and develop appreciation and understanding of water and its impact on current and historic events.  These programs will take place at our museum, at schools, and at other places where people gather.
  • We will incorporate all relevant disciplines in our teaching about water when opportunities present themselves. Examples of disciplines include biology, chemistry, physics, environmental science, geology, urban studies, sociology, engineering, political science and economics.
  • We will incorporate into our programs a recognition of the Lenni-Lenape as original owners of Burlington Island.
  • We will provide a forum for indigenous groups from throughout the Americas to teach the public about the sacredness of water, the interconnectedness of all life and the importance of protecting our water from pollution, drought and waste.
  • We will create opportunities for young people from around the world with diverse backgrounds, cultures and religions to come to the Island and work together on implementing our Mission.  We believe that fostering personal growth, cross-cultural friendships and mutual respect for diversity will contribute to global peace.
  • We offer ecologically sustainable opportunities for recreation, and the enjoyment of indigenous flora and fauna on land and water.
  • We are respectful in our care of artifacts, found on and around our museum area. 
  • We depend on our employees and volunteers who contribute their skills, enthusiasm, knowledge and time as well as our visitors, donors and friends whose interest and generosity support our Mission.
  • We contribute to the wider community of Burlington and Bristol by providing opportunities for employment and economic growth.
  • We actively collaborate with the local and larger historical, scientific and environmental communities to become a respected resource.
  • Our employees and volunteers value the satisfaction and enjoyment that comes from working together toward our common mission.

Our Policies

The Island Waters Institute does not sell, exchange, or release website visitor’s names, postal addresses, e-mail addresses, or other individually identifying information to parties outside of the Institute, except to third party contractors performing services, to the extent necessary to comply with applicable laws or valid legal processes, to protect the rights and property of the Island Waters Institute.

Upon receipt of requests for materials or information or requests to process applications for exhibition and vending opportunities from organizations or persons by postal services, hand delivery, on-line forms, or email, we use this information to respond. We may also use this information to provide information about our activities, programs, fundraising opportunities, products and special events. We have opt-out procedures in place.

This privacy policy may change if technology, functionality content we provide, or laws require us to revise policies.


We recognize that the Island Waters Institute’s mission can only be realized through a common code of ethics upheld by our officers, board of directors and staff.  

  • We expect integrity, honesty, and trustworthiness in our work; courage in our decisions, and dedication to our values and beliefs.  
  • We expect responsible action on behalf of the organization and are accountable and transparent to our constituents and to one another. 
  • We have procedures in place to ensure that any conflicts of interest or the appearance of, are avoided or appropriately managed through disclosure, recusal or other means.  
  • Our solicitation of funds from the public and from donor institutions will use material that is truthful about us.  We respect the privacy concerns of individual donors and we will expend the funds consistent with donor intent.  We disclose important and relevant information to potential donors.  Our donors will:
    • Be informed of the identity of those serving on our governing board.
    • Have access to our most recent financial reports.
    • Be assured their gifts will be used for purposes for which they are given.
    • Receive appropriate acknowledgment and recognition.
    • Be assured that information about their donations is handled with respect and with confidentiality to the extent provided by law.
    • Be approached in a professional manner.
    • Be encouraged to ask questions when making a donation and to receive prompt, truthful and forthright answers.  
  • We expect to be treated and to treat others with respect.  We respect the opinions of and the differences among individuals.  
  • We expect fairness to be evident in our actions internally and externally.  We are equitable in our decisions and mindful of their impact on other groups and people.
  • We expect our actions to demonstrate our care for the ecological environment, our care for people, our care for the communities of Burlington and Bristol, as well as the world as a whole.

Our Story

The WaterStudio is the product of a 12-year journey of environmentalists looking to help Burlington City take advantage of a rare natural resource: a fresh water lake in an Island in a tidal river sandwiched between two urban areas. The Island Waters Institute, is a 501(c)(3) not for profit creating the WaterStudio, a global museum attraction inspiring the appreciation, conservation and restoration of Water.

The seed to this adventure was planted during the nearly two-hour ride founder Karen Robbins made to New York City where she underwrote affordable housing and other structured municipal securities as a First VP for Ambac Indemnity.  Being deeply interested in community revitalization, Robbins could not help but dwell on the possibilities after reading about Burlington City’s desire to use Burlington Island for revitalization. 

Once situated at the NJ non-profit corporation, Woolman Community Development (“Woolman”), Robbins responded to a Request for Qualifications issued by the Board of Island Managers (“Managers”) for purposes of leasing Burlington Island for the maximum time permitted - a period of 24 years with three automatic extensions to develop land uses limited to conservation, recreation, culture and education. Woolman got approved, and the team got busy. 

In August of 2009, the Managers appointed Woolman as its Master Developer.  Negotiations began for the lease, preliminary environmental studies were conducted, plans were made to partner with Native American Groups for Phase One’s Living History Lenape Village and efforts were made to commit investors to the primary revenue producing projects that would enable the Managers to fulfill its charity obligation to use proceeds from the Island to benefit the education of the children of Burlington.  These efforts were discontinued when a requirement to achieve preliminary site plan approval by 1/2013 was not met.   

Robbins learned from the obstacles: having to find an investor for property that could not be owned, an island with no access or infrastructure, ACE threats to dump dredge spoils, city-imposed restrictions regarding access (politics), ecological sensitivity, lack of governmental financial assistance and development limited to conservation, recreation, culture and education; all faced during the Great Recession. 

Throughout the years, Robbins has remained committed to helping the Managers fulfill their mission.  After exploring numerous alternative land uses and funding mechanisms, the Island Waters Institute is convinced that the WaterStudio is the best and most feasible option, believing it will be funded by a combination of grants, donations and loans to serve the public by maintaining the environmental integrity of Burlington Island, educate the public about the need for water conservation and restoration, all while creating jobs, increasing the tax base and improving the quality of life for those currently living in Burlington City NJ and Bristol PA, by working with local community groups and housing professionals to avoid displacement. 

A comprehensive Business Plan setting forth a blue print for the development and operation of the WaterStudio is the result of extensive research.  It is considered by the Board of Island Managers to be desirable and “…is consistent with the Charter of the Board of Island Managers and when fully implemented will facilitate the viable use of Burlington Island and will benefit the citizens of Burlington”. (As stated in the Resolution Authorizing Negotiations between the Board of Island Managers and the Island Waters Institute, dated September 14, 2020.)

Board of Directors

Karen Robbins:   President
Ms. Robbins is also the President of OZ Capital Gains and OZ Manager LLC for purposes of funding a garage on the mainland to support the WaterStudio project.

Jack Johnson: Treasurer
Mr. Johnson is an enrolled Member of the Delaware Nation and employed by the City of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department.

Ivan Pawlenko: Secretary
Mr. Pawlenko is Senior Project Manager of EnviroTrac.