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National Water Quality Initiative

South Carolina Overview:

SC Watershed map small

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Through the National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is offering financial and technical assistance to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners interested in improving water quality and aquatic habitats in priority watersheds with impaired streams. NRCS will help producers implement conservation and management practices through a systems approach to control and trap nutrient and manure runoff. Qualified producers will receive assistance for installing conservation practices such as cover crops, filter strips and tailwater recovery systems. For over 75 years, NRCS has provided agricultural producers with assistance to implement voluntary conservation practices that protect natural resources while maintaining production and profits.

South Carolina Priority Watersheds

  • Polk Swamp in Dorchester County
  • Upper Little Saluda in Saluda County
  • Big Swamp in Florence County
  • Chinquapin Creek in Aiken/Lexington County

South Carolina’s three watersheds were selected based on the high nutrient levels that negatively impact water quality.

  • Polk Swamp in Dorchester County is 37,865 acres and flows past the town of St. George and drains into Indian Field Swamp at the base of the watershed. It contains 12,838 acres of agricultural land (33.90%) and is classified by the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) as impaired due to high nutrient levels. Practices for improvement will include animal waste management systems.
  • Upper Little Saluda in Saluda County is 29,984 acres and flows through the Saluda Reservoir near the Town of Saluda, and into the Little Saluda River arm of Lake Murray forming small coves. Possible sources of contamination in this watershed are failing septic systems, cattle watering in creeks, birds, and wildlife. The watershed is listed as a SCDHEC 319 water quality priority area.
  • Big Swamp in Florence County is 38,163 acres and drains into the Lynches River. It contains 11,745 acres of ag land (30.77%) and is a blackwater system, characterized by naturally low dissolved oxygen levels. Contamination sources were determined to be wildlife, grazing livestock, and malfunctioning septic systems. The watershed is listed as a SCDHEC 319 water quality priority area.
  • Chinquapin Creek in Lexington and Aiken Counties is 27,455 acres, and eventually drains into the Edisto River.  SCDHEC suggests that activities focused towards nonpoint sources of pollution in this watershed could improve water quality standards.  There is a considerable amount of agricultural activity, especially poultry production.  NRCS will target technical and financial resources to assist livestock and poultry producers.

More Information

(Please click on map to view larger size)

Big Swamp

Big Swamp watershed small

Chinquapin Creek

Chinquapin Creek watershed small

Polk Swamp

Polk Swamp watershed small

Upper Little Saluda River

Upper little saluda river watershed small


Conservation Funding and Practices

NRCS conservation professionals will provide technical assistance and planning tools to determine which conservation actions will provide the best results to improve water quality on your land and meet your objectives. Nutrient management systems, erosion control, conservation tillage, pest management, and buffers systems are just some of the practices being offered as part of the National Water Quality Initiative. To help install these conservation practices, financial assistance to share in the cost of these conservation practices is available though the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).


NRCS identified priority watersheds through the help of local partnerships and state water quality agencies. Partners sometimes offer financial assistance in addition to NRCS programs. NRCS will continue to coordinate with local and state agencies, conservation districts, nongovernmental organizations and others to implement this initiative. This strategic approach will leverage funds and provide streamlined assistance to help individual agricultural producers take needed actions to reduce the flow of sediment, nutrients and other runoff into impaired waterways.

Producer Benefits

Water quality conservation practices benefit agricultural producers by lowering input costs and enhancing the productivity of working lands. Conservation investments are good for all Americans because well managed farms limit pollution from runoff, produce food and fiber, sustain rural economies, and provide food security to the Nation. All across the country farmers, ranchers and forest landowners are voluntarily taking action and putting conservation on the ground to improve water quality on millions of acres!

Public Benefits

NRCS is proud to be involved in a nationwide effort with landowners and communities to improve and protect our water resources. The landowners and farmers participating in the initiative will receive conservation payments to work on the land in a sustainable way which provides cleaner water. In addition to the financial assistance, the land will remain productive into the future. Communities benefit by having clean waterways, safer drinking water and healthy habitat for fish and wildlife.

How to Apply

Almost every county in the Nation has a USDA Service Center. To get started, make an appointment at your local office. You will need 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. Remember to check with your local NRCS office to see if you are located in a selected watershed. 

Additional Documents

If you encounter any problems with the files provided on this page, please contact Sabrenna Bryant at 803-765-5419.

The following documents require Adobe Acrobat Reader.

 South Carolina National Water Quality Initiative Fact Sheet  (PDF; 215 KB)
Polk Swamp Ranking Sheet (PDF; 11 KB)
Chinquapin Creek Ranking Sheet (PDF; 11 KB)
Big Swamp Ranking Sheet (PDF; 16 KB)
Upper Little Saluda River Ranking Sheet (PDF; 11 KB)