The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has named five priority watershed areas to help agricultural producers improve water quality across California. Producers in these targeted watersheds will receive focused financial and technical resources through NRCS’s successful landscape-level water-quality efforts, the National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI).
“We see a positive impact – both here in California and across the country – when we partner with producers to deliver conservation practices to critical watersheds,” said Carlos Suarez, NRCS state conservationist in California. “These focused partnerships allow us to maximize the delivery of our conservation efforts and achieve greater improvements to water quality, which benefits the participating producers, the public, and our nation’s natural resources.”
NWQI was initiated in 2012 to address agricultural contributions to surface waters impaired by nutrients, sediment, and pathogens. Since then, priority watersheds across the country have seen improvements, including the delisting of once impaired streams.
The technical and financial assistance from NRCS assists farmers and ranchers with implementing practices that avoid, control, and trap nutrients and sediment, which can negatively impact water quality. Practices include filter strips, cover crops, and manure management, which promote soil health, reduce erosion, and lesson nutrient runoff.
NRCS strengthened its focus on watershed assessment and partner engagement in priority small watersheds since 2019. NRCS encourages state partners to begin collaboration on NWQI priorities for Federal Fiscal Year 2022 which begins on October 1, 2021. See the NRCS website for a list of the NWQI watersheds.
National Water Quality Initiative
NRCS designated watersheds within NWQI. NWQI is a partnership among NRCS, state water-quality agencies, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and others to identify and address impaired surface water bodies through voluntary conservation. Through NWQI, NRCS provides targeted funding for financial and technical assistance to help farmers apply conservation practices to protect water resources. NWQI includes protection for both surface and ground sources of drinking water.
Five priority watershed areas in California will be receiving financial assistance for planning to address impaired surface waters. These are the nearest NRCS offices to assist:
Water quality is improving in NWQI watersheds. State water-quality agency partners report that 27% of NWQI monitoring watersheds show an improvement in water quality in at least one of the NWQI-monitored pollutants (based on 2016 data). Further, 81% of these improvements can be attributed to or associated with agricultural conservation practices implemented by farmers and ranchers.
Since its launch, NWQI has:
- Helped producers implement conservation on over 960,000 acres
- Reduced sediment loss by almost 1 million tons
- Reduced phosphorous loss by 2.5 million pounds
- Reduced nitrogen loss by 11 million pounds
Participating in NWQI
NRCS accepts applications for conservation programs year-round, but applications are ranked and funded by enrollment periods that are set locally. Producers interested in technical and financial assistance should contact their local NRCS field office. For more information on landscape initiatives, visit https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/ca/home/ or contact your local NRCS field office.