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National Water Quality Initiative

The National Water Quality Initiative works in priority watersheds to help farmers and forest landowners improve water quality and aquatic habitat in Maryland's impaired streams. NRCS helps producers implement conservation and management practices through a systems approach to control and trap nutrient and manure runoff. Qualified producers can receive assistance for installing conservation practices such as cover crops, filter strips and prescribed grazing through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

Through this effort, Maryland is helping farmers and forest landowners in two watershed to invest in voluntary conservation actions to help provide cleaner water for their neighbors and communities. The selected watersheds were identified with help from state agencies, partners, and the NRCS State Technical Committee.Map of selected watersheds in the National Water Quality Initiative

Upper, Middle, and Lower Catoctin Creeek Watershed

The Catoctin Creek Watershed encompasses the southwestern portion of Frederick County and is framed by Catoctin Mountain on the east and South Mountain on the west. The Catoctin Creek watershed drains an area of 120 square miles, which includes areas of forested mountain slopes, agricultural valleys, and small towns. The area’s waters are impaired by sediments, nutrients, impacts to biological communities, and fecal coliform. The land use distribution in the watershed is approximately 43% agricultural, 42% forest/herbaceous, and 15% urban, with agricultural land mostly planted in row crops and pasture.

Nutrient management systems, erosion control, conservation tillage, pest management, and buffer systems are just some of the practices being offered as part of the Catoctin Creek  NWQI.

Fact Sheet

Prettyboy Reservoir- Gunpowder Falls Watershed

The Prettyboy watershed, an 80 square-mile watershed that flows through Carroll and Baltimore counties, feeds the Prettyboy Reservoir. The Prettyboy Reservoir is one of three reservoirs in the Baltimore Metropolitan System that collectively provides water to 1.8 million consumers in Baltimore City and surrounding areas. Approximately 15% of the watershed is developed, 47% is agricultural and 38% is forest, wetlands and water. Land use changes, including the loss of forests, farms and riparian vegetation, coupled with increased stormwater runoff, septic systems, the impacts of roads and increasing deer populations, have caused concerns about water quality and the future protection of this vital source of drinking water.

Conservation practices available to producers in the Prettyboy NWQI include prescribed grazing, cover crop, pollinator habitat, grassed waterways, and tree and shrub establishment.

How to apply

To get started, contact your local USDA Service Center to ensure you are located in the selected watershed. You can then make an appointment 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.

For the Catoctin Creek watershed NWQI, contact the Frederick USDA Service Center at 301-695-2803.

For the Prettyboy NWQI, contact, in Baltimore County, call (443) 477-1231, ext. 3; in Carroll County, call (410) 484-6696, ext. 104. 

National Water Quality Initiative


Mikel Williams Hawkins
Farm Bill Specialist
Phone: 443.482.2923

Jackie Byam
Assistant State Conservationist- Programs
Phone: 443.482.2927