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Source Water Protection

Source water protection includes a wide variety of actions and activities aimed at safeguarding, maintaining or improving sources of drinking water and their contributing areas.

Source water refers to sources of water (such as rivers, streams, lakes, reservoirs, springs and groundwater) that provide water to public drinking water supplies and private wells. Source water protection includes a wide variety of actions and activities aimed at safeguarding, maintaining or improving the quality and/or quantity of sources of drinking water and their contributing areas.

The 2018 Farm Bill added a provision providing for the protection of source water through targeted conservation practices. This provision, 1244(n), instructs USDA to encourage the protection of drinking water sources through the following methods:

  • Identifying local priority areas for drinking water protection in each State. This is done in collaboration with State technical committees and community water systems and may address concerns about either the quality or quantity of source water or both.
  • Providing increased incentives for practices that relate to water quality and quantity and protect drinking water sources while also benefitting producers.
  • Dedicating at least 10 percent of the total funds available for conservation programs (excluding CRP) to be used for source water protection each year, from fiscal year 2019 through 2023.

Tracking of Farm Bill Spending for Source Water

Why do we track Farm Bill spending for Source Water?

The provision in the Farm Bill to spend not less than 10% of any funds available to benefit source water created a necessary task to annually track and report compliance with the provision. Covered programs are ACEP, CSP, EQIP, and RCPP.  The mandate applies to fiscal years (FY) 2019 through 2023.   

Beginning in Fiscal Year 2019 all programs (excluding CRP) were tracked to determine how much of the obligation was benefitting source water. 

Methodology- How we track spending for source water

To track compliance with the 10% mandate in the Farm Bill, NRCS gathers financial assistance (FA) obligation data to gain an overall total for each program.  NRCS applies two tests to determine if a given FA obligation counts toward the mandate.  First, does that contract or easement address resource concerns that could benefit source water.  Second, does the contract or easement provide funding in a SWP area. If the contract or easement supports both tests, then the FA is applied to benefit source water.

Collection and analysis methods of contract and easement data vary by the program. For EQIP, CSP, and RCPP-14 contracts, the resource concern must be related to source water.  Whereas, for ACEP – WRE and CSP- GCI, all easements and contracts are assumed to have source water benefits.  For ACEP-ALE, state offices must examine easement documents individually.  For RCPP-2018 projects, inclusion will be based on project aims as provided by project sponsors and incorporated into RCPP project records.

NRCS relies on an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) source water protection areas geospatial data (national layer) as the GIS layer for tracking the 10% nationally. The EPA national layer contains all surface and ground water public drinking water systems across the country. Due to the identification of intakes and wellheads within the geospatial data, the information is protected and can only be acquired with proper authorization.

Reporting- How we will share this information

NRCS protects the data used in this approach and never shares personal information in contracts and easements. Raw data is never shared outside of the team that is building the reports. Final reports are aggregated to the state and national level so that locations and personal information are hidden. For national reporting, total FA obligations and percentages are displayed. 

Download Total FA Obligations and Percentages by Year

Download Maps of the Fiscal Year 2024 Priority Areas


John Bullough, NWQI and MRBI Coordinator

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Contact your local service center to start your application.

Find Your Local Service Center

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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.