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Act Now – USDA FY ’13 National Water Quality Initiative Includes Drinking Water Considerations

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has just released a National Bulletin (guidance) on its Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI) – see full document attached.  We are very excited to report that this guidance now includes specific consideration of conservation projects that protect sources of drinking water.

March 15 Due Date

Please note that the selection of watersheds for the NWQI is again on a fast track with a March 15, 2013 due date.  That means that state water quality agencies (including drinking water programs) will need to engage in discussions with their USDA-NRCS State Conservationists within the next few weeks.

Upcoming Webinars

EPA and NRCS will host an informational conference call/webinar on the NWQI FY ‘13 guidance for EPA Regions and states during the first week of February.  In addition, EPA is working on a parallel track to develop an approach to NWQI monitoring as part of the Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 319 grant guidelines that are now being finalized, and hopes to host a subsequent webinar on this topic later in February.  Stay tuned — we will forward the webinar details when they become available.

NWQI Background and Changes for FY 2013

In FY 2012, USDA-NRCS State Conservationists were directed to spend minimum of 5% of their EQIP funds ($33M nationwide) on CWA Section 303(d) listed and threatened waters in one to three watersheds and subsequently selected 157 watersheds.  In FY ‘13, USDA’s multi-year NWQI again directs state conservationists to spend a minimum of 5% of their EQIP funds, as well as identify additional targeted watersheds and continue to engage producer participation to install conservation practices in watersheds identified in FY ‘12.  The substance of the new guidance is very similar to FY ’12, except for the following two changes that were supported by EPA:

  • Pathogens from animal agriculture sources have been added as an eligible pollutant at the request of a number of states.
  • Additional considerations are to be provided where the water body is also a drinking water source.  Specifically:
    • On page 1:  State source water assessments and protection plans are mentioned as part of other factors to be considered in priority watershed selection.
    • In Attachment A, page 1: The bulletin includes drinking water source protection agencies and programs as water quality agencies, and notes that state source water protection coordinators have information about drinking water protection areas as well as other data.
    • In Attachment A, page 2:  EPA’s EnviroMapper is mentioned as a tool to identify sources of drinking water.
    • In the Access Form, question 10 (attachments document page four):  Asks if the watershed/waters have been identified as a drinking water source.

Act Now

The FY ‘13 inclusion of drinking water provides an opportunity to ensure that source water protection areas within the selected watersheds receive additional attention, and to work with NRCS on identifying additional watersheds in FY ‘13.  If you haven’t already, please be prepared to share data with them on watersheds where drinking water sources are impaired or threatened.

As a reminder, the Source Water Collaborative Toolkit provides a five step guide for engaging your State Conservationist that includes useful tips, talking points, and other resources to assist your efforts.  The toolkit includes a word document with links to find and contact your state NRCS office that is also attached for your convenience.

 

Attachment — Find Your USDA-NRCS State Conservationist Attachment – USDA FY13 NWQI

Attachment – USDA FY13 NWQI