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National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI)

Picture of a manure storage

The National Water Quality Initiative will work in selected watersheds to help farmers and forest landowners improve water quality and aquatic habitats in impaired streams.

Through the National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is offering financial and technical assistance to farmers 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.

Pennsylvania Priority Watersheds

In Pennsylvania, three watersheds have been selected to participate in NWQI: the Upper Kishacoquillas Creek in Mifflin County, Beaver Creek in Bedford County, and Upper Yellow Creek in Bedford and Blair Counties. With help from state agencies, partners, and the NRCS State Technical Committee, these watersheds were identified because of the significant natural resources challenges they face.

Upper Kishacoquillas

The Upper Kishacoquillas watershed or “Upper Kish” watershed is a cold water fishery in Mifflin County that is part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Consisting of 58.6 miles of stream, the Upper Kish watershed drains approximately 19,064 acres or 30 square miles of Kishacoquillas Valley, known locally as “Big Valley.” Agriculture (60%), forested land (36%), developed land (approx. 2%), and transitional land (approx. 2%) compose the main land use types in this watershed. It has been designated as an impaired watershed by DEP.

Beaver Creek and Upper Yellow Creek

Beaver Creek and Upper Yellow Creek are both in the Yellow Creek watershed in Bedford and Blair Counties.

Yellow Creek is a tributary in the Juniata River watershed that eventually drains a highly productive agricultural valley locally known as “Morrison’s Cove” or simply “the Cove” into the Chesapeake Bay.

This area has highly productive limestone soils and many highly productive dairy farms.  It has had historical problems with high levels of nitrates in ground water along with sediment and nutrients in surface water. A Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) study shows that every tributary in Beaver Creek and Upper Yellow Creek is impaired due to sediment and nutrients from agricultural sources. Yellow Creek is a top trout fishing stream and has also been classified by DEP as a Special Protection/High-Quality Stream.

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. Nutrient management systems, erosion control, conservation tillage, pest management, and buffers 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).

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.

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

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.

For more Information

Contact your local USDA-NRCS Service Center:

Burnham (Mifflin County)
(717) 248-9541 (x3)

Bedford (Bedford County)
(814) 623-7900 (x3)

Holidaysburg (Blair County)
(814) 695-6291 (x3)

State Contact

Assistant State Conservationist