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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

2021 Priority Watersheds
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Download FY 2021 Priority
Watersheds map
(PDF, 9.3 MB)

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 over $30 million in targeted assistance to help farmers and ranchers improve water quality in high-priority streams and rivers across the country in 2020. In FY21, NRCS will have 175 watersheds receiving financial assistance, and 211 watersheds total that will be developing watershed assessments and outreach strategies.

How It Works

Now in its tenth 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.

Source Water Protection

In FY19, NRCS expanded the scope of NWQI to include source water protection, including both surface and ground water public water systems, and is now a special component of NWQI.  There are 9 implementation projects and 14 readiness projects in FY21. NWQI assists partners in adapting and expanding source water protection plans to identify critical source areas needing further treatment related to agricultural land uses.

List of Source Water Protection Projects for FY21

Results

Since 2012, NRCS has worked with more than 3,700 producers to adopt conservation practices on more than 960,000 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.

Water quality is improving in NWQI watersheds.  State water quality agency partners report that 27% of NWQI monitoring watersheds show an improvement in water quality in at least one of the NWQI-monitored pollutants (based on FY16 data). Further, 81% of these improvements can be attributed to or associated with agricultural conservation practices implemented by farmers and ranchers.

State water quality agencies are a key partner in the success of NWQI efforts. This includes providing analysis of long-term water quality trends in NWQI watersheds through in-stream monitoring. State water quality agencies are assessing in-stream water quality progress by monitoring in at least one NWQI watershed per state using EPA Clean Water Act Section 319 or other funds. The objective is to assess whether water quality and/or biological condition related to nutrients, sediments, or livestock-related pathogens have changed since the start of the NWQI in the watershed, and if so, whether this can be associated with voluntary conservation implemented on agricultural lands.

 

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Resources and Publications

2021 Watersheds
NWQI Successes
NWQI Case Study – Guide to Successful Watershed Management (PDF)
Partners Guide to Working with NRCS for Conservation Using a Small Watershed Approach (PDF)
Resource Stewardship

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