The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has posted their new FY 2024 bulletins for the “National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI) Watershed and Source Water Protection Area (SWPA) Selection and Criteria for Planning and Implementation Phases of NWQI,” and “Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) Project Funding and Opportunity for Planning Phase for New Watershed Projects.” The NWQI and MRBI are both able to provide technical assistance for planning, in addition to funding for implementation. Drinking water partners are encouraged to reach out to your NRCS State Conservationist’s Office to discuss implementation and begin planning now for potential changes in the NWQI watersheds, SWPAs and MRBI that are due by July 28, 2023.
- The new NWQI Bulletin provides information about NWQI funding allocations, guidance, and criteria for selecting new NWQI watersheds, submitting justification to withdraw existing NWQI watersheds, and proposing new NWQI Source Water Protection Areas (SWPAs) for FY 2024. The NWQI prioritizes funding for landowner agricultural practices in these watersheds and SWPAs to protect water quality and quantity, and drinking water. Each year, the NRCS State Conservationists consult with state water quality agencies and partners, including drinking water providers, to evaluate the status of NWQI watersheds and SWPAs and propose to add or withdraw them based on NWQI criteria, state priorities, and NRCS leadership approval. All states are required to participate in NWQI with a minimum of three watersheds (HUC12) to address impaired or threatened surface waters.
- The new MRBI Bulletin provides guidance and criteria for NRCS State Conservationists in the 12 states that comprise MRBI for proposing new priority watersheds for targeted conservation efforts that require upfront planning and assessment before receiving financial assistance. The primary focus of improving water quality, while also restoring wetlands, enhancing wildlife habitat, and sustaining agricultural viability in priority watersheds by supporting conservation practices that avoid, control and trap sediment and nutrients. MRBI activities are guided by multi-year implementation plans that document annual targets for conservation activity and the related financial assistance need. Priority watersheds that need additional planning and assessment before project development may be proposed for a “planning phase” in FY 2024.