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Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations Program

The Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program helps units of federal, state, local and tribal of government (project sponsors) protect and restore watersheds up to 250,000 acres.

This program provides for cooperation between the Federal government and the states and their political subdivisions to work together to prevent erosion; floodwater and sediment damage; to further the conservation development, use and disposal of water; and to further the conservation and proper use of land in authorized watersheds.

There are 2,100 active or completed watershed projects in the 50 states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the Pacific Basin. Dams are included in 1,271 of those projects. 

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offers financial and technical assistance through this program for the following purposes:

  • Erosion and sediment control
  • Watershed protection
  • Flood prevention
  • Water quality Improvements
  • Rural, municipal and industrial water supply
  • Water management
  • Fish and wildlife habitat enhancement
  • Hydropower sources

Local Watershed Solutions

Project sponsors access program assistance through the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations component of this program. Project sponsors can use land treatment solutions or structural solutions, which require construction. An approved watershed plan must be in place prior to initiation of any corrective land treatment or structural solutions.

Once the watershed plan is approved, the project sponsor helps landowners install planned land treatment measures if that is the appropriate solution. For structural solutions, project sponsors ensure surveys and investigations are completed. They also acquire detailed designs, specifications and engineering cost estimates for construction projects. If needed, project sponsors will outline areas where land rights, easements, and right-of-ways are needed.

Eligibility for Authorized Watershed Projects

Statutory and regulatory criteria include:

  • Public sponsorship
  • Watershed Projects up to 250,000 acres
  • Benefits that are directly related to agriculture, including rural communities, must be at least 20 percent of the total benefits for the project.

Accessing the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program

Project sponsors can access help through this program in the following ways:

  • Project sponsors can request funding to carry out an existing NRCS authorized plan. Assistance can include design and construction. 
  • Project sponsors can request the Chief of NRCS to authorize a plan developed with USDA  Watershed Operations funding;
  • Watershed plans that require $5 million or more in federal funding  for construction require Congressional approval.

Once the watershed plan is authorized, project sponsors can access NRCS’s financial and technical help to implement their plan.

Watershed Operations Funding

Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations funding is available pending the following:

  • Annual Congressional appropriations
  • State and national priorities
  • Acquisition of land and water rights
  • Obtaining required permits
  • Availability of local funding for specific project solutions
  • Completion of structural, agronomic and vegetative designs for project measures      
  • An approved Operations and Maintenance agreement between NRCS and the project sponsor that ensures the project land treatment and/or structural solutions will be installed and maintained as specified in the agreement.

Additional Resources

National Watershed Program Manual and Handbook

The documents below require Adobe Acrobat Reader.   

National Watershed Program Manual 4th Edition 1st Amendment (PDF, 1.55 MB)
National Watershed Program Handbook (PDF, 2.4 MB)
Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program Guide (PDF, 221 KB)


National Watershed Coalition’s What is a Watershed page
Association of Dam Safety Officials

Contact Information

To learn more about NRCS’s Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program, please contact your state's Program Manager.