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National Water Quality Initiative

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As USDA’s premiere water quality initiative, NWQI provides a way to accelerate voluntary, on-farm conservation investments and focused water quality monitoring and assessment resources where they can deliver the greatest benefits for clean water.

What's New



2019 Priority Watersheds
Download FY19 NWQI watersheds and source water protection areas

NWQI has been extended through Fiscal Year (FY) 2023, with some updates to strengthen program delivery. Updates include a focus on watershed assessment and planning and use of multi-year budgets to demonstrate long-term commitment in assisting water quality efforts.

NRCS invested approximately $30 million in targeted assistance to help farmers and ranchers improve water quality in high-priority streams and rivers across the country in 2018. In FY19, NRCS will have 201 watersheds receiving financial assistance, and 27 priority areas (62 watersheds total) that will be developing watershed assessments and outreach strategies. 

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Now in its eighth year, the National Water Quality Initiative is a partnership among NRCS, state water quality agencies and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to identify and address impaired water bodies through voluntary conservation. NRCS provides targeted funding for financial and technical assistance in small watersheds most in need and where farmers can use conservation practices to make a difference. 

Conservation systems include practices that promote soil health, reduce erosion and lessen nutrient runoff, such as filter strips, cover crops, reduced tillage and manure management. These practices not only benefit natural resources but enhance agricultural productivity and profitability by improving soil health and optimizing the use of agricultural inputs. 

State water quality agencies and other partners contribute additional resources for watershed planning, implementation and outreach. They also provide resources for monitoring efforts that help track water quality improvements over time. 

Pilot Project



In FY19, NRCS expanded the scope of NWQI to include source water protection, including both surface and ground water public water systems. A pilot project will assist partners in adapting and expanding source water protection plans to identify critical source areas needing further treatment related to agricultural land uses. There are 16 source water protection pilot projects, two of which are already in the implementation phase. 

List of Source Water Protection Pilots

Initiative Result



Since 2012, NRCS has worked with more than 3,650 producers to adopt conservation practices on more than 825,000 acres in priority watersheds through NWQI. To date, at least 11 impaired water bodies have been improved and subsequently scheduled for de-listing or otherwise removed from NWQI due to successful water quality improvements.

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Resources and Publications

2019 Watersheds
2019 Watershed Assements
NWQI Successes
Resource Stewardship

Contact: Dee Carlson, NWQI Coordinator (202) 720-5287