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National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI)

NWQI Goal:Children playing in creek

Our goal with the National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI) is to focus conservation and water quality monitoring and analyses where our efforts can have the most impact for clean water. We would like to see ag-impaired streams be de-listed, signifying that agricultural pollutants are no longer negatively impacting the stream.

How NWQI Works:

The NWQI is a partnership among the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), state water quality agencies, and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to identify and address impaired water bodies through voluntary conservation. Conservation systems that avoid, control, and trap nutrients and sediments are crucial to keeping these pollutants out of our surface and ground water.

NWQI Offers:

Targeted financial and technical support is available through NRCS. Outreach and educational efforts may be planned in your local watershed. Partnering agencies will likely be involved in outreach, planning, implementation, and especially water quality monitoring and analysis efforts.

Pennsylvania Priority Watersheds

NWQI has been in existence since 2012, but has now been extended through Fiscal Year 2023, with some updates including source water protection, watershed assessment plans, and a focus on water quality outcomes.

NWQI Watersheds Map


































In 2019, the following watersheds were approved for the National Water Quality Initiative readiness phase.

  • Warrior Run, Northumberland County
  • Swatara Creek, Lebanon and Dauphin Counties
  • Maiden Creek, Berks County
  • Beaver and Upper Yellow Creeks, Bedford and Blair Counties
  • Upper Kishacoquillas Creek, Mifflin County

See map above for the locations of these watersheds. These watersheds were selected due to agricultural impairment. During the readiness phase, Watershed Assessment Plans were developed. During this process, local stake holders and partners worked with NRCS to determine critical source areas for pollutants, output and outcome goals, outreach plans, ranking questions, cost estimates, and monitoring plans. Plans were developed for all watersheds and approved at a national level for internal use.

Several of the watersheds have been in the NWQI since 2012. Those are Maiden Creek, Beaver and Upper Yellow Creeks, and Upper Kishacoquillas Creek. 

Swatara Creek and Maiden Creek are our source water protection pilot projects, meaning that they are focused on protecting water that will be used as a source of public drinking water. Nitrates and turbidity (sediment) are common concerns for drinking water. Preventing nitrate and sediment from exiting our farm land is important for drinking water quality, including clarity, taste, and toxicity. Removing excess amounts also makes the water less costly to treat to make it acceptable for human consumption. 

Warrior Run

Warrior Run originates in Muncy Township, Lycoming County and flows south and west before emptying into the West Branch of the Susquehanna River just south of Watsontown.  The entire basin includes 48.78 stream miles and drains 21.6 square miles. The land use is forest (mainly in the headwaters) and a mixture of agricultural and urban land. The Warrior Run basin (including all its tributaries) is currently listed as ag impaired. (Click here for map.) The critical source areas for the watershed shown here are further prioritized within this watershed.

Swatara Creek

The Dauphin and Lebanon County potions of the Swatara Creek watershed included in the project encompass roughly 264 square miles and accounts for almost 60 percent of the entire Swatara Creek watershed. The watershed is composed of 8 HUC 12 watersheds: Middle Swatara Creek, Lower Swatara Creek, Lower Little Swatara Creek, Killinger Creek, Snitz Creek – Quitapahilla Creek, Reeds Creek – Swatara Creek, Bow Creek – Swatara Creek, and Manada Creek. Over 215 of the 350 miles of stream included in this project area designated as impaired due to agriculture. Click here for map. The critical source areas for the watershed shown here are further prioritized within this watershed. Applications within the source water protection areas shown here will receive additional ranking points in the competition with other applications for program funds.

Maiden Creek

The Maiden Creek watershed is the second largest tributary to the Schuylkill River and contains more than 100 miles of perennial streams. Lake Ontelaunee is a 1,082-acre manmade lake approximately six miles north of the city of Reading in Southeastern PA. Constructed in 1926, Lake Ontelaunee has the capacity to hold 3.88 billion gallons of water and has a 216 square mile drainage area known as the Maiden Creek Watershed. In addition, the reservoir contains a popular warm water fishery. Activities upstream of Lake Ontelaunee affect the drinking water of thousands of Reading residents. 

The watershed includes seven HUC 12 watershed totaling 138,323 acres: Ontelaunee Creek Watershed, Eagle Point- Mill Creek Watershed, Saucony Creek Watershed, Willow Creek Watershed, Lower Maiden Creek Watershed, Upper Maiden Creek Watershed, and Pine Creek Watershed. (Click here for map.) Karst topography containing “pure limestone” is present in the watershed and can act as a conduit to groundwater. NWQI will focus on stopping the hydrologic transport of pollutants to the drinking water sources (surface and ground water). The critical source areas for the watershed shown here are further prioritized within this watershed. Applications within the source water protection areas shown here will receive additional ranking points in the competition with other applications for program funds.

Beaver 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. (Click here for map.) Yellow Creek itself is a top trout fishing stream and has also been classified by DEP as a Special Protection/High-Quality Steam. The critical source areas for the watershed shown here are further prioritized within this watershed.

Upper Kishacoquillas Creek

The Upper Kishacoquillas watershed or “Upper Kish” watershed is a coldwater 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 Kishacoquilllas Valley, known locally as “Big Valley.” Agriculture (605), forested land (36 percent), developed land (approximately two percent), and transitional land (approximately two percent) compose the main land types in this watershed. It has been designated as an impaired watershed by DEP. (Click here for map.) The critical source areas for the watershed shown here are further prioritized within this watershed.

How to Apply

To get started, make an appointment at your local office. If you are in the watershed, you can apply through NWQI. If not, you may be eligible for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. For either, you will need to establish eligibility and farm records for your land. Then, NRCS will guide you in completing an application while explaining which conservation practices are available in your watershed. 

For more information

Contact your local USDA-NRCS Service Center:

  • Warrior Run
    •  Northumberland County  570-415-3130
  • Swatara Creek
    • Lebanon County  717-376-3513
    • Dauphin County  717-559-4020
  • Maiden Creek
    • Berks County 484-512-3241
    • Lehigh County 484-635-3789 (Northampton County office)
  • Beaver and Upper Yellow Creeks
    • Bedford County  484-512-3241
    • Blair County  814-317-3327
  • Upper Kishacoquillas Creek
    • Mifflin County  717-953-3147

State Contact

Ashley Lenig
Conservation Program Manager

717-237-2204

Last updated:  February 4, 2021