The goal of the NIFA National Water Quality Program is to protect and improve the quality of water resources throughout the United States and its territories, particularly in agriculturally managed watersheds. The National Water Quality Program brings university scientists, instructors, and extension educators into more effective and efficient partnerships with federal interagency priority programs to address water quality issues in agriculture. A key emphasis of the program is the integration of extension, research, and education resources to solve water quality problems at the national, regional, state, and local levels.
The NIFA National Water Quality Program is supported in part by the Section 406 National Integrated Water Quality Competitive Grants Program. This program includes regional water quality coordination projects and associated direct-funded projects to support integrated, multifunctional agricultural research, extension, and education activities.
The program is guided by a unique model for shared leadership which includes representatives from each of 10 regional projects (Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, regions), representatives from 1890 and 1994 institutions, and the NIFA national program leader for Water Quality. It is called the NIFA Committee for Shared Leadership for Water Quality (CSL-WQ).
Agriculture is recognized as the leading agent of non-point source pollution across the U.S. The National Water Quality Program provides research, education, and extension activities to address these non-point source pollution challenges in agricultural and rural watersheds.
Through a collaborative effort with representatives from land-grant universities and colleges, eight key “themes” have been identified that represent critical challenges affecting the quality of our nation's water resources in agricultural and rural watersheds. These themes are:
- Animal manure management
- Drinking water/Human health
- Environmental restoration
- Nutrient and pesticide management
- Pollution assessment and prevention
- Water management and conservation
- Water policy and economics
- Watershed management
Current Areas of Emphasis
Section 406 of the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act of 1998 (AREERA) (7 U.S.C. 7626) authorized the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a competitive grants program for NIFA water quality funding, which includes four major categories:
Regional Coordination Projects use state water quality coordinators to promote regional collaboration, enhance delivery of successful programs, and encourage multistate and multi-region efforts to protect and restore water resources in 10 regions consistent with the EPA regional structure. Activities include:
- Annual national water quality conferences are enabling strategic planning and national program coordination organized around the eight key water quality themes listed above.
- Regional water quality coordination meetings and conferences are facilitating resource sharing and technology transfer.
- Regional water quality databases have been developed to share information and resources across state and regional boundaries.
- Partnerships are being formed and strengthened with federal and state agencies and organizations to enhance program delivery.
Integrated Projects implement a focused research effort along with outreach education to address watershed concerns.
Extension Education Projects deliver outreach programs into target watersheds.
National Facilitation Projects coordinate and support implementation of successful programs that are relevant across the United States.