Skip Navigation

Watershed Rehabilitation

Image of the Watershed Rehabilitation Program header

The Watershed Rehabilitation Program helps project sponsors rehabilitate aging dams that are reaching the end of their 50-year design lives.  This rehabilitation addresses critical public health and safety concerns.  Since 1948, the Natural Resources Conservation Service NRCS has assisted local sponsors in constructing more than 11,800 dams.

Local sponsors request funding assistance from NRCS when a potential rehabilitation project is identified. NRCS is committed to cost sharing the planning, design, and construction of eligible projects contingent upon available funding.  NRCS selects projects based on the risks to life and property if a dam failure were to occur.

Benefits of Watershed Rehabilitation

Across the nation, watershed projects provide an estimated annual benefit of $2.2 billion in reduced flooding and erosion damage and improved wildlife habitat, recreation, and water supply for an estimated 47 million people. These projects provide additional benefits, such as improved water quality through sediment and erosion control.  

In addition to dam rehabilitation assistance, NRCS maintains a dam safety program. NRCS GeoObserver for Dams is a geospatial dam monitoring tool that helps NRCS engineers keep up-to-date information for the National Inventory of Dams. NRCS DamWatch  provides NRCS engineers and local project sponsors with web-based monitoring of dams during rainfall, snowmelt or seismic events.

Watershed Rehabilitation and Drought

The Watershed Rehabilitation Program allows sponsors to build or augment existing water supplies. More than 80 rehabilitation projects being planned may include increases in water storage capacity. Once built, these projects would protect the lives and property of more than 119,000 people and boost resilience to climate change.    

Project Sponsors

Watershed project sponsors represent interests of the local community in federally assisted watershed projects.  Sponsors request financial assistance from NRCS.  When funding is allocated, the sponsor and NRCS enter into an agreement that defines the roles and responsibilities of each party to complete the rehabilitation project. A watershed plan is developed for each project to address environmental impacts, costs, benefits, planned conservation practices, and the responsibilities of involved parties.  A variety of agencies and organizations can assist sponsors with developing a plan. NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to sponsors and assists them with the planning, design, and construction of the projects.

Project sponsors are responsible for and agree to carry out specific parts of the project, including:

  • Obtaining land rights
  • Obtaining required permits
  • Overseeing operation and maintenance throughout the evaluated life of the project (generally 100 years)
  • Monitoring easement encroachment
  • Meeting permitting requirements
  • Developing and updating emergency action plans for high-hazard dams
  • Conducting regular inspections of installed works of improvements, and
  • Working with regulatory agencies (dam safety agency)

Additional Reports and Information

Watershed Rehabilitation Progress Report, February 2018 (PDF, 661 KB)
Watershed Rehabilitation Status Report, January 2018 (PDF, 424 KB)

Watershed Rehabilitation Partners

National Watershed Coalition
Association of State Dam Safety Officials

Contact Information

Jesse Wilson, national watershed rehabilitation program manager, 202-720-0189.
See the National Watershed Rehabilitation webpage for more information.