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National Water Quality Initiative

National Water Quality Initiative - Healthy Watersheds(En Español)

Overview

For over 85 years, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has provided agricultural producers with assistance to implement voluntary conservation practices that protect natural resources while maintaining production and profits. NRCS continues to offer financial and technical assistance through the National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI), to farmers, ranchers and private 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 sediment, nutrients and organic runoff. Qualified producers will receive assistance for installing conservation practices such as cover crops, reduced tillage, riparian buffers and rotational grazing.

For Fiscal Year 2021, NRCS, EPA and the Natural Resources Departments for PR (DNER) and the USVI (DPNR) have identified four priority watersheds in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands for targeted conservation planning and implementation. Three watersheds are targeted for conservation planning: Rio Grande de Añasco and Rio La Plata in Puerto Rico, and Northwest St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Rio Fajardo watershed in Puerto Rico is targeted for conservation implementation.

Caribbean Area Priority Watershed - Implementation: Río Fajardo

Río Fajardo NWQI Sign-up - NEW!

The Rio Fajardo watershed in Puerto Rico will receive financial assistance from NRCS for practice implementation to address impaired surface waters through a special Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) signup for NWQI funding. Please contact the Caguas Field Office at 787-743-2743 for details or to apply. This year's deadline for this special signup is April 30, 2021.

Cattle grazing in the riparian area adjacent to Río Fajardo.The Rio Fajardo Watershed covers around 16,309 acres in northeastern Puerto Rico, including portions of the municipalities of Fajardo and Ceiba and sections of El Yunque National Forest and Ceiba State Forest. The area also has one of the island’s 11 major public water supply reservoirs that serves 31,514 households. However, because of the water collection method from the river, sedimentation has reduced the reservoir’s capacity. NWQI efforts will focus on the agricultural area located in the watershed’s flood plain. Pasture covers 21% of the watershed and has been identified as high priority area with 2,374 acres, with resource concerns of overgrazing and a lack of riparian buffers adjoining the river. NRCS planners will work with producers and partners in the watershed to voluntarily implement conservation practices through EQIP to avoid, control, and trap sediment and nutrient runoff, and to improve wildlife habitat while maintaining agricultural productivity. The objective is to improved land-based management to protect stream and coastal water quality, while improving wildlife habitat for threatened and endangered species, and enhancing near shore coastal and coral reef health. The goal is to reduce sediment loads by 30% by increasing rotational grazing and applying riparian buffers. Project partners include PR DNER, US Forest Service & US Fish & Wildlife Service.

Sediment plume from Río Grande de Añasco clouding Caribbean Sea.

Caribbean Area Priority Watershed - Planning: Río Grande de Añasco

The Rio Grande de Añasco is one of the primary rivers discharging into Mayagüez Bay and drains one of the largest watersheds in Puerto Rico. The Añasco watershed covers an area of 164,480 acres and includes portions of Añasco, Mayagüez, Las Marías, Maricao, San Sebastián, Lares, Yauco, and Adjuntas municipalities. The watershed is ranked # 5 on the list of impaired watersheds in the Puerto Rico Unified Watershed Assessment, due primarily to sediment, bacterial and chemical contamination (low dissolved oxygen, high arsenic and turbidity). Some of these pollutants are directly related to agricultural sources such as fertilizers, pesticides and manure from crop and pasture lands.

NRCS has identified Concentrated erosion, Degraded plant condition, Field sediment, nutrient and pathogen loss, and Aquatic and Terrestrial habitat loss as the primary resource concerns in the Añasco watershed that will be addressed through this initiative.

Caribbean Area Priority Watershed - Planning: Río la Plata

Río de La Plata floodplain area (Photo courtesy of Taylor Engineering).Rio La Plata drains north into the Atlantic Ocean and the headwaters are located 22 miles inland towards the south. The watershed covers approximately 139,520 acres and includes portions of Dorado, Toa Baja, Toa Alta, Bayamon, Naranjito, Comerio, Barranquitas, Aibonito, Cidra, and Cayey. It also includes one of the main water reservoirs for potable water in Puerto Rico serving 130,828 households. The TMDL developed for the watershed identified agriculture and confined animal operations as the main source of fecal coliforms. Nitrogen, phosphorus and turbidity were also identified as causes of impairment in the 303(d) list. A watershed management plan can substantially reduce and potentially delist this waterbody from the 303(d) list. This is and has been a high priority watershed for the PR Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) and the EPA. The selected HUC12 watershed covers 29.4% of the total watershed and has 41.5 % coverage by agricultural land uses.

Farm in Estate Bordeaux looking east over the Northwest St. Thomas Watershed, USVI.

Caribbean Area Priority Watershed - Planning: Northwest St. Thomas

Northwest St Thomas Watershed covers 4,883 acres and is composed of six bays: Botany Bay, Stumpy Bay, Santa Maria Bay, Dorothea Bay, Hull Bay and Magens Bay. These areas have the second largest concentration of livestock in the USVI and twice the number of livestock than the rest of the watersheds in St. Thomas. Although most water quality issues in the USVI are related to urban pollution, the Northwest St Thomas watershed has most of the island’s agriculture-related water quality issues. All the bays have turbidity issues and Magens Bay has enterococcus and pH issues identified on the 303d list. Dissolved oxygen is also identified as a source of impairment in Dorothea Bay.

Añasco livestock farmer examining his healthy pasture grass.

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 buffer 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).

Partnerships

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

To get started, make an appointment at your local NRCS field office (See table below to determine which office serves each selected watershed). 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 field office to see if you are located in a selected watershed. 

Watershed Field Office(s)
Rio Fajardo
Rio Fajardo Watershed map
  • Caguas Field Office, José Santiago, District Conservationist, 787-743-2743 x111 (office) or 787-309-9836 (cell)
  • The Rio Fajardo watershed special Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) signup for NWQI funding is now open. Please contact the Caguas Field Office at 787-743-2743 for details or to apply. The deadline for this special signup is April 30, 2021. NRCS accepts applications for conservation programs year-round, but applications are ranked and funded by enrollment periods that are set locally.
Rio Grande de Añasco
Rio Añasco Watershed Map - aerial photo
  • Mayagüez Field Office, Zulma García, District Conservationist, 787-831-3454 x100 (office) or 787-396-8781 (cell)
Rio de La Plata
Rio La Plata Watershed Map - aerial photo
  • Caguas Field Office, José Santiago, District Conservationist, 787-743-2743 x111 (office) or 787-309-9836 (cell)
  • Corozal Field Office, Freddie Rivera, District Conservationist, 787-859-2880 x101 (office) or 787-360-4438 (cell)
Northwest St. Thomas
Northwest St. Thomas watershed map - aerial photo
  • St. Croix Field Office, Rudy G. O’Reilly, Jr., District Conservationist, 340-692-9662 x106 (office) or 340-514-4262 (cell)

For More Information