Feedback opportunity for priority watersheds

*** Opportunity for you to recommend to NRCS priority watersheds for the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) and for the National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI) by May 22, 2020 ***

Please provide feedback of watersheds you consider priorities and meet the criteria for the MRBI and or NWQI.  Send your recommendations to tim.hafner@usda.gov by May 22, 2020.

This is being sent on behalf of State Conservationist Greg Stone and State Resource Conservationist Tim Hafner.

TO:  Kentucky State Technical Committee and Other Interested Persons

Kentucky NRCS has been asked to propose new priority watersheds for targeted conservation for the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watershed Initiative (MRBI) and for the National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI).   For both, a planning and assessment year (“readiness phase”) can be requested in order to do a watershed-level assessment, on-farm planning, and outreach.  Unless a good watershed assessment and adequate planning currently exists for proposed watershed(s), Kentucky NRCS desires to use fiscal year (FY) 2021 for a planning and assessment year, followed by Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) financial assistance/implementation beginning in FY 2022.  Additional watersheds may be added in future years.

Both efforts are similar, yet there are some differences:

MRBI:

  • MRBI is limited to only 12 states, including Kentucky.
  • Project watersheds are to be located in the previously identified 8-digit Hydrologic Unit Area (HUC) boundaries (“MRBI Focus Areas” – see attached maps), however we are allowed to recommend new 8-digit focus areas if desired.
  • Emphasis should be on supporting nutrient loss reduction strategies.
  • Project areas may be made up of multiple HUC-12s.  While we have been told “less is better”, there is no limit on the number (and they can be contiguous). The national MRBI program manager thinks 10 is a reasonable maximum.

NWQI:

  • This initiative is delivered jointly with state water quality agencies and EPA to address agricultural sources of water pollution, specifically nutrients, sediment, and pathogens in priority watersheds throughout the country.
  • Location is not limited to any specific focus area or other geographical area.
  • States must identify a minimum of three HUC-12 watersheds for FY 2021.
    • They can be contiguous where it makes sense to work in all three to address the same pollutants of concern, e.g. three HUC12s contributing to downstream impairment or that have same listed waterbodies. This way, we may be able to do one assessment for all three to provide some efficiencies in planning – as long as the HUC12s have similar landscape/operations/management and would be working towards same water quality goals and using same metrics to measure progress, and as long as the analyses are done at the HUC12 scale (i.e. the critical source areas are identified within each HUC12).

 

The following watershed selection criteria has been provided by the NRCS national office:

MRBI Project Proposals – Criteria for Watershed Selection

To ensure that there is adequate capacity and demand, in addition to a justified need for accelerated funding in proposed priority watersheds (12-digit HUCs), states should consider the following questions:

  • Is the watershed identified on the State’s list of priorities in the State nutrient reduction strategy, or other State or regional plan, or is it within an MRBI Focus Area? (required)
  • Is there a clear link between the primary resource concerns in the watershed and the ability of conservation to effectively address the resource concerns?
  • Are there committed partners in place who can leverage funding and resources for activities such as watershed planning, outreach, providing additional financial assistance, technical assistance, modeling, or monitoring?
  • Does the watershed have a sufficient number of acres needing treatment, a sufficient number of producers to warrant additional funding, or both?
  • Is there a demonstrated demand for water quality–related conservation among producers in the area?
  • Is there sufficient technical capacity in the watershed to plan and implement conservation on a watershed scale?

 

There must be a watershed plan or assessment that provides the following:

  • Sufficient watershed assessment to guide the siting and implementation of conservation practices at the HUC-12 level for greatest water quality benefit.
  • Identification of critical source areas or vulnerable acres within the watershed for identified pollutants of concern (a map showing these areas within the watershed is required).
  • Established watershed goals for water quality improvement, with specific metrics that can establish progress towards these goals.
  • Implementation needs to meet water quality objectives, and associated costs. Ideally this will include an evaluation of treatment level to date.
  • Outreach strategies for implementation on vulnerable acres.

Priority watersheds will not be considered for selection (for financial assistance) without a watershed assessment that meets these criteria. There is no specific format requirements for assessments, and in some cases the required assessment elements may be met using more than one available document. However, states may propose watersheds for a one-year “readiness” phase to develop the watershed assessments prior to receiving financial assistance.  (This is what Kentucky NRCS would prefer to do for FY 2021.)

 

NWQI and Source Water Protection Area (SWPA) Project Proposals – Criteria for Watershed Selection

 1) Water Quality Resource Concerns.

  1. i) Watersheds with Surface Water Concerns – State must provide evidence that the watershed meets one of the following:

(1)    Impaired. A stream or water body documented to be impaired and identified on a State’s 303(d) list (Integrated Report, Section 5).

(2)    TMDL. A stream or water body that is considered impaired but removed from the 303(d) list because there is a TMDL plan for implementation (Integrated Report, Section 4a).

(3)    Threatened. A stream or water body with water quality data documenting an impairment that is not documented in 1) or 2) above.

(4)    Critical. A stream or waterbody upstream of an impaired segment that is determined by the STC to be a significant contributing source of the downstream impairment.

  1. ii) Source Water Protection Areas – States may propose SWPAs that meet the following criteria:

(1)    Addresses agricultural related impacts to water used as a public drinking water supply – surface or ground water systems.

(2)    Areas based on delineations provided by the State drinking water program or the water utility. Expanded areas will be considered when developed in consultation with the utility/drinking water partner.

 Note:  If SWPAs are submitted for NWQI, they must be in addition to the three submitted HUC-12s that address impaired or threatened surface waters.  States are not required to submit SWPAs, but they are required to submit at least three HUC 12s that meet 1.(i) above.

 

2) Watershed/SWPA Plans and Goals. There must be an actionable watershed/SWPA assessment that provides the following:

  1. i) Sufficient assessment to guide the siting and implementation of conservation practices at the HUC-12 level or within SWPAs for greatest water quality benefit.
  2. ii) Identification of critical source areas for identified pollutants of concern (a map showing these areas within the watershed is required).

iii) Established goals for water quality improvement, with specific metrics that can establish progress towards these goals.

  1. iv) Outreach strategies for implementation on vulnerable acres.

Note:  Just like for MRBI, states may propose watersheds for a one-year “readiness phase” to develop the watershed assessments prior to receiving financial assistance.  (This is what Kentucky NRCS would prefer to do for FY 2021.)

 

3) Technical Capacity and Producer Interest. States should consider and demonstrate that there is sufficient technical capacity and producer interest to warrant a long-term investment in the selected watershed or SWPA, using the following questions as a guide:

  1. i) Is there adequate technical capacity, from NRCS or partners, to conduct sufficient outreach and technical assistance to meet project goals? For example, is there a watershed coordinator? Does a network of partnering agencies already exist that can carry out identified activities needed to meet goals?
  2. ii) Is there sufficient density of producers and producer interest to meet project goals? For example, is there a backlog of EQIP applications in the area and producer engagement in addressing water quality concerns? Are the majority of targeted producers EQIP-eligible?

iii) Is there an opportunity for partners to provide in-stream water quality monitoring or other monitoring or measurement that can help track the change in water quality attributed to NWQI practices?

 

4) Measuring Progress. States should prepare for assessing progress toward meeting goals in NWQI watersheds/SWPAs:

  1. i) When possible, select watersheds or SWPAs where baseline water quality monitoring data already exist.
  2. ii) Track implementation on the identified critical source areas within the watershed or SWPA.

iii) Report on the specific metrics that were developed with partner input (2.iii. above) to demonstrate progress in meeting water quality goals. At least one of these interim metrics must be directly related to the water quality concern (e.g., load reduction percentage, pounds of P prevented from leaving field, change in biotic integrity score, change in P index results weighted across the watershed, etc.).

 

Please provide feedback of watersheds you consider priorities and meet the criteria for the MRBI and or NWQI.  Send your recommendations to tim.hafner@usda.gov by May 22, 2020.

If you have questions please contact Tim Hafner either at tim.hafner@usda.gov or at 859-327-5073.

Gregory Stone

State Conservationist