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The goal of the National Water Program is to protect and improve the quality of water resources throughout the United States and its territories through research, education and extension efforts. The National Water Program has identified Watershed Management as a theme on which to focus these efforts.

What are NIFA and the Land Grant System doing to improve Watershed Management?

Watershed management recognizes that the water quality of our streams, lakes, and estuaries results from the interaction of upstream features. Programs through NIFA and the Land Grant System unite social, economic, and environmental concerns with research devoted to “scaling-up” the cumulative effects of site-specific actions on rangelands, forests, agricultural lands, and rural communities.

Effective planning and long-term change in impaired watersheds requires citizen participation in many stages of the process. NIFA and the Land Grant Colleges and Universities with its system of community-based educators carrying out public outreach education are uniquely poised to direct programming to increase community involvement in watershed management. Extension programs educate agricultural producers, residents, and community decision makers on watershed assessment and modeling using a wide array of programming, including workshops on the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) process, model and geographical information system (GIS) demonstrations, hands-on training of watershed-scale tools available to reduce pollution risks within watersheds, and media publications. Extension supports numerous volunteer water quality monitoring programs that educate and empower volunteers while collecting valuable data that assess water quality before and after watershed restoration. The NIFA network is engaging stakeholders in the watershed management process - including watershed scale planning and implementation, resulting in changing attitudes and behaviors that reduce contamination throughout watersheds and consequently improve water quality.

These Extension programs are in close communication with watershed management researchers at the Land Grant Universities. New monitoring methods and techniques are being developed and assessed to help identify impaired water bodies. New watershed assessment methods, GIS analysis, and watershed modeling are generated to determine the sources and factors that affect delivery of critical pollutants to waterways. Researchers are pondering how to select and evaluate watershed scale improvement efforts. For example, work is being done to identify critical areas to locate best management practices (BMPs) and to determine the role of pollution trading in achieving watershed scale pollution control. In addition, researchers are studying the social science behind the facilitation of stakeholder involvement in watershed issues. Within NIFA, this science is integrated into education and extension programs to ensure that effective watershed management becomes a reality throughout the United States.

Why is Watershed Management important?

Activities of all land uses within watersheds impact the water quality of down gradient water bodies. Point and nonpoint sources of pollution in a watershed contribute nutrients, bacteria, and chemical contaminants to U.S. waterways. Watershed management encompasses all the activities aimed at identifying sources and minimizing contaminants to a water body from its watershed.

The federal Clean Water Act requires each state to conduct water quality assessments to determine whether its streams, lakes and estuaries are sufficiently “healthy” to meet their designated uses, i.e., drinking, shellfishing, or recreation. A water body that does not meet its designated use is defined as “impaired” and added to a list of impaired waters, also known as the 303(d) List. Each state is required to develop TMDLs, the maximum amount of a specific pollutant a water body can accommodate without causing the water body to become unable to serve its beneficial use, for all water bodies on its 303(d) List. The TMDL process is just one component of watershed management. Effective watershed management is an on-going process that must be flexible enough to adapt to the unique characteristics of different watersheds as well as changing circumstances within a single watershed. It results in reduction of contaminants within watersheds and improvement of water quality.


More information on how Watershed Management issues are being addressed throughout the country is available via these NIFA Regional Water Quality Programs(these external links will open in a new window) external link :

Great Lakes Heartland Mid-Atlantic Northeast States & Caribbean Islands Northern Plains and Mountains Pacific Northwest Southern Southwest States and Pacific Islands

The following people generously volunteered their time and expertise to assist with the development of the Watershed Management area of this website:

Brian Benham, Virginia Polytechnic Institute
Bob Broz, University of Missouri
Jane Frankenberger, Purdue University
Arthur Gold, University of Rhode Island

This National Theme website, Watershed Management, was developed and is maintained by Kelly Addy ( and Caitlin Chaffee, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI 02881.