NB_300_18_26 - NB 300-18-26 LTP – National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI) Watershed Selection and Criteria for Implementation and Readiness Phases of NWQI – Fiscal Year (FY) 2019
NB 300-18-26 LTP – National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI) Watershed Selection and Criteria for Implementation and Readiness Phases of NWQI – Fiscal Year (FY) 2019
National Bulletin: 300-18-26 Date: May 30, 2018  
Subject: LTP – National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI) Watershed Selection and Criteria for Implementation and Readiness Phases of NWQI – Fiscal Year (FY) 2019  

Action Required By: September 14, 2018   

Purpose. To provide State conservationists (STCs) and directors of the Caribbean and Pacific Island Areas with guidance and criteria for selecting new watersheds for FY 2019 readiness phase of the National Water Quality Initiative, submitting justification to withdraw existing NWQI watersheds, proposing areas for drinking water protection pilot, and preparing for transition of NWQI to defined multiyear projects in FY 2020.


Expiration Date.  September 30, 2018  
Background.  NWQI was established in FY 2012 as an initiative delivered jointly with State water quality agencies and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to address agricultural sources of water pollution, specifically nutrients, sediment, and pathogens in priority watersheds throughout the country. Each year, STCs consult with State water quality agencies and partners to evaluate the status of NWQI watersheds, and propose to add or withdraw watersheds based on NWQI criteria, State priorities, and regional conservationists’ (RCs’) approval.


In FY 2017, NRCS piloted an approach to evaluate changes to NWQI that could increase the potential for success in achieving water quality improvement by strengthening the standards for watershed assessment required for inclusion in NWQI and by providing support for achieving these standards. Based on the pilot’s outcomes, NWQI in FY 2018 included watersheds selected for a “readiness phase” as well as an implementation phase.


NWQI continues to be adapted to meet the needs of NRCS, customers, and partners. The following changes are being made to NWQI:


  1. Beginning in FY 2020, NWQI watershed activities will be guided by multiyear plans with implementation and funding targets. Multiyear projects with defined implementation timelines will demonstrate continued commitment to NWQI watersheds and garner more support and assistance from partners. Proposed watersheds must have established watershed plans or assessments that inform the project implementation needs. Proposals can be tied to partner contribution agreements to leverage additional resources for water quality technical assistance, outreach, and measurement.

  2. Currently approved NWQI watersheds may receive funding in FY 2019. In FY 2020, States may choose to develop project proposals for these watersheds if there is a need for further treatment for water quality, or they may be discontinued if they meet the criteria for withdrawal.

  3. A new pilot is being offered in FY 2019 to expand the scope of NWQI to source water protection including ground water.


This guidance establishes criteria and action items to—

  • Request new watersheds for the FY 2019 implementation and readiness phase of NWQI.

  • Request to withdraw current NWQI watersheds.

  • Request new watersheds, protection areas, and aquifers for a source-water protection pilot.



    Current Approved NWQI Watersheds

    There are currently 201 approved NWQI watersheds in the implementation phase and 22 watersheds in the readiness phase that could be ready for financial assistance (FA) through NWQI in FY 2019. As in previous years, currently approved NWQI watersheds may receive financial assistance in FY 2019 unless they are discontinued. STCs should consider their implementation and readiness phase NWQI watersheds when completing the FY 2019 State resource assessment (SRA).


    New Watershed Selection for Implementation Phase

    New priority watersheds for the implementation phase will not be solicited in FY 2019, with the exception of watersheds currently in the readiness phase.

    STCs should complete the EXCEL spreadsheet named NWQI FY2019 Readiness Watershed Project Proposal located on the NWQI Sharepoint for completed readiness phase projects ready for FA:


    Completed watershed assessments with maps identifying critical source areas are required for completed readiness phase projects.

    STCs are encouraged to begin working with partners to identify new priority watersheds for NWQI and to begin preparation of project proposals for FY2020. Project proposal templates will be made available in forthcoming guidance. STCs with potential priority watersheds that already meet the NWQI New Watershed Selection Criteria outlined in attachment A may wish to pursue a project proposal for funding in FY 2019. STCs should contact the NWQI coordinator for additional guidance to develop project proposals for FY 2019.

    New Watershed Selection for Readiness Phase

    STCs may propose watersheds for readiness phase activities in FY 2019.  STCs should have concurrence from the State water quality agency, support of partners and ensure that the watershed meets one of the criteria outlined in paragraph 1) of attachment A, but does not meet the required level of readiness as described in 2), 3), or 4). The readiness phase will provide a minimum 1-year period for watershed-level assessment, on-farm planning, and outreach before allocations of FA in future years.


    STCs may receive additional support to prepare for future NWQI financial assistance in approved watersheds. Support includes GIS resources, assessment guidance and targeting tools. Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) may be provided. CTA could be used to fund additional staff or develop partner agreements to assist with watershed-level planning and outreach.


    STCs requesting to add new watersheds for the NWQI readiness phase are required to complete Attachment B, “NWQI FY2019 Watershed Approval - Readiness Phase Request.” Required elements of watershed assessment are provided in Attachment C, “NWQI/MRBI Watershed Assessment Guidance.” An outreach plan developed with partner collaboration should identify and engage producers located in areas of the watershed that have the greatest need for treatment. STCs will have the opportunity to request CTA funding for NWQI readiness phase activities through the SRA for FY 2019.

    STCs should contact the NWQI coordinator if they would like to continue current readiness phase watersheds for FY 2019. States will not receive additional CTA for extended readiness phase watersheds.

    NWQI readiness phase watersheds may be transitioned into the implementation phase when assessment criteria and project proposal requirements are met.

    Withdrawal of NWQI Watersheds

    For a watershed to be withdrawn, STCs must provide documentation of support for the change from the State water quality agency and document one of the following:

  1. Evidence that the primary water quality resource concerns have been adequately treated, evidence that conservation treatment goals have been met, or evidence that goals will be met through other dedicated funding and efforts, including those from partners. States that wish to withdraw NWQI dedicated funding where treatment needs are met, or are expected to be met, are required to report on activities and anticipated water quality outcomes and provide documentation from the State water quality agency that they concur.

  2. Evidence that there is low participation in the watershed. Outreach activities and other forms of targeting and engaging producers within the watershed should be documented, with justification explaining why low participation cannot be improved or overcome.

    EPA will provide a list of NWQI watersheds that are being monitored as part of EPA’s section 319 requirement. Any NWQI watersheds that are identified as “NWQI Monitoring Watersheds” will not be discontinued. These watersheds have had monitoring systems put in place by the State water quality agency with the primary purpose to evaluate water quality impacts from NWQI implementation. States can determine whether NWQI FA is needed in these watersheds to complete water quality treatment.

    STCs may request to withdraw watersheds (except NWQI Monitoring Watersheds) by submitting Attachment B, “NWQI FY2019 Watershed Approval – Waiver Request to Withdraw.”


    Readiness Pilot Project for Source Water Protection - Ground Water

    NWQI has provided special consideration for proposed NWQI watersheds that address surface drinking water sources. NWQI is providing a readiness pilot in FY 2019 to provide assessment and planning for source water protection of public water supplies including ground water sources. NRCS will work with States and utilities that have delineated source water protection areas and have developed source water protection plans to address impacts from all sources. This pilot will address agricultural related impacts to water used as a public drinking water supply. STCs should propose watershed or aquifer protection areas for the readiness pilot based on delineations in source water assessments or protection plans, or State-delineated areas. Source water protection plans must follow State water quality agency criteria. CTA may be provided for assessment and planning activities, including identification of vulnerable areas and practices needed to address agricultural impacts. STCs should use “Attachment B, NWQI FY2019 Watershed Approval – SWP Pilot,” to propose source water protection projects for the pilot. Guidance for source water assessment through the NWQI pilot will be provided at a later date.     

Contact.   If you have questions or need additional information, please contact Dee Carlson, NWQI coordinator, at dee.carlson@wdc.usda.gov.


Acting Regional Conservationist – Northeast



Acting Regional Conservationist – Southeast



Regional Conservationist – West

Regional Conservationist – Central



Deputy Chief for Programs

Acting Deputy Chief for Science and Technology 


Attachment A – NWQI New Watershed Selection Criteria

Attachment B – NWQI FY 2019 Watershed Approval

Attachment C – NWQI/MRBI Watershed Assessment Guidance    

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