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Floodplain of the Rio de La Plata, Puerto Rico.

National Water Quality Initiative - Maryland

The National Water Quality Initiative works in priority watersheds to help farmers and forest landowners improve water quality and aquatic habitat in Maryland's impaired streams.

NRCS helps producers implement conservation and management practices through a systems approach to control and trap nutrient and manure runoff. Qualified producers can receive assistance for installing conservation practices such as cover crops, filter strips and prescribed grazing through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

Through this effort, Maryland is helping farmers and forest landowners in two watershed to invest in voluntary conservation actions to help provide cleaner water for their neighbors and communities. The selected watersheds were identified with help from state agencies, partners, and the NRCS State Technical Committee.

Maryland NWQI Watersheds

Upper, Middle, and Lower Catoctin Creek Watersheds

The Catoctin Creek Watershed encompasses the southwestern portion of Frederick County and is framed by Catoctin Mountain on the east and South Mountain on the west. The Catoctin Creek watershed drains an area of 120 square miles, which includes areas of forested mountain slopes, agricultural valleys, and small towns. The area’s waters are impaired by sediments, nutrients, impacts to biological communities, and fecal coliform. The land use distribution in the watershed is approximately 43% agricultural, 42% forest/herbaceous, and 15% urban, with agricultural land mostly planted in row crops and pasture.

Nutrient management systems, erosion control, conservation tillage, pest management, and buffer systems are just some of the practices being offered as part of the Catoctin Creek  NWQI.

Prettyboy Reservoir- Gunpowder Falls Watershed

The Prettyboy watershed, an 80 square-mile watershed that flows through Carroll and Baltimore counties, feeds the Prettyboy Reservoir. The Prettyboy Reservoir is one of three reservoirs in the Baltimore Metropolitan System that collectively provides water to 1.8 million consumers in Baltimore City and surrounding areas. Approximately 15% of the watershed is developed, 47% is agricultural and 38% is forest, wetlands and water. Land use changes, including the loss of forests, farms and riparian vegetation, coupled with increased stormwater runoff, septic systems, the impacts of roads and increasing deer populations, have caused concerns about water quality and the future protection of this vital source of drinking water.

Conservation practices available to producers in the Prettyboy NWQI include prescribed grazing, cover crop, pollinator habitat, grassed waterways, and tree and shrub establishment.


Mikel Williams Hawkins
Farm Bill Specialist
Phone: 443-482-2923

Heydsha Cordero
Assistant State Conservationist- Programs
Phone: 443-482-2927

How to apply

To get started, contact your local USDA Service Center to ensure you are located in the selected watershed. You can then make an appointment to establish eligibility and farm records for your land. NRCS will help you complete an application while explaining which conservation practices are available in your watershed.

For the Catoctin Creek watershed NWQI, contact the Frederick USDA Service Center at 301-695-2803.

For the Prettyboy NWQI, contact, in Baltimore County, call (443) 477-1231, ext. 3; in Carroll County, call (410) 484-6696, ext. 104. 

Ready to get started?

Contact your local service center to start your application.

Find Your Local Service Center

USDA Service Centers are locations where you can connect with Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, or Rural Development employees for your business needs. Enter your state and county below to find your local service center and agency offices. If this locator does not work in your browser, please visit

How to Get Assistance

Do you farm or ranch and want to make improvements to the land that you own or lease?

Natural Resources Conservation Service offers technical and financial assistance to help farmers, ranchers and forest landowners.

how to get started

To get started with NRCS, we recommend you stop by your local NRCS field office. We’ll discuss your vision for your land.

NRCS provides landowners with free technical assistance, or advice, for their land. Common technical assistance includes: resource assessment, practice design and resource monitoring. Your conservation planner will help you determine if financial assistance is right for you.

We’ll walk you through the application process. To get started on applying for financial assistance, we’ll work with you:

  • To fill out an AD 1026, which ensures a conservation plan is in place before lands with highly erodible soils are farmed. It also ensures that identified wetland areas are protected.
  • To meet other eligibility certifications.

Once complete, we’ll work with you on the application, or CPA 1200.

Applications for most programs are accepted on a continuous basis, but they’re considered for funding in different ranking periods. Be sure to ask your local NRCS district conservationist about the deadline for the ranking period to ensure you turn in your application in time.

As part of the application process, we’ll check to see if you are eligible. To do this, you’ll need to bring:

  • An official tax ID (Social Security number or an employer ID)
  • A property deed or lease agreement to show you have control of the property; and
  • A farm number.

If you don’t have a farm number, you can get one from USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Typically, the local FSA office is located in the same building as the local NRCS office. You only need a farm number if you’re interested in financial assistance.

NRCS will take a look at the applications and rank them according to local resource concerns, the amount of conservation benefits the work will provide and the needs of applicants. View Application Ranking Dates by State.

If you’re selected, you can choose whether to sign the contract for the work to be done.

Once you sign the contract, you’ll be provided standards and specifications for completing the practice or practices, and then you will have a specified amount of time to implement. Once the work is implemented and inspected, you’ll be paid the rate of compensation for the work if it meets NRCS standards and specifications.