National Irrigation Water Quality Program Horizontal Banner
As of fiscal year 2005,
the National Irrigation Water Quality Program
has been inactive.

For further information regarding the program,
please "Contact Us" via the link
at the top of this page.
National Irrigation Water Quality Program Logo

About the National Irrigation Water Quality Program


In 1982, dying waterfowl and waterfowl with birth defects and reproductive failures were discovered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Kesterson Reservoir, National Wildlife Refuge, California. Investigations started in 1982 and continued through 1985. The cause of the problem was determined to be high levels of selenium in the irrigation drainwater discharged into the reservoir.

There was widespread media attention and congressional interest in 1985 concerning the potential for similar toxic impacts from irrigation drainwater at other locations across the West. This prompted the Secretary of the Interior to open an investigation of the effects of irrigation drainwater in the Western United States. A congressional hearing, several television programs, more than 100 newspaper and magazine articles, and numerous other inquiries focused on the contaminant issues related to irrigation drainwater.

In late 1985, the Department of the Interior (DOI) developed a program to investigate the extent and magnitude of the problem. A management strategy was developed and committed DOI to conduct a program that would identify and address irrigation-induced water quality and contamination problems related to DOI water projects in the West. No specific congressional action was taken and the Secretary of the Interior approved the initiation of the National Irrigation Water Quality Program (NIWQP). DOI was selected to manage the NIWQP with an advisory group of Bureau Coordinators representing the Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Geological Survey, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Management of the NIWQP was transferred from DOI to the Bureau of Reclamation in fiscal year 1999. As part of the transfer agreement, the NIWQP retained the Bureau Coordinators as an advisory group to the NIWQP Manager.

The NIWQP program focuses on irrigation delivery water that originates from DOI developed irrigation and drainage projects. Impacts from irrigation return flows were focused on the following groups of fish and wildlife resources for which the Department has responsibilities.

  • National Wildlife Refuges receiving drainwater from DOI irrigation and drainage facilities.

  • Areas important to migratory birds and endangered species receiving drainwater from DOI irrigation and drainage facilities.

  • Public water supplies that may be affected by drainwater from DOI irrigation and drainage facilities.


The NIWQP identifies all chemicals that might be transported by irrigation drainwater from a Federal irrigation project and that might be impacting sensitive/protected species or public water supplies. However, actual NIWQP remediation is conducted for only those chemicals that are naturally occurring.

Contaminants, such as DDE and DDT or other human introduced trace elements, are generally governed by Federal and state regulations relating to their uses. The NIWQP considers the impacts of these human activities in all its remediation decisions because:

  1. other contaminants in an area may make a NIWQP remediation ineffective or

  2. there may be some opportunity to develop remediation plans that effectively correct both NIWQP related and non-NIWQP related contaminant problems at little or no additional public expense.

People Involved

The National Irrigation Water Quality Program (NIWQP) was an interagency program within the Department of the Interior.

Primary Contact
Bureau of Reclamation
National Irrigation Water Quality Program
P.O. Box 25007, 86-62000 (Knipps)
Denver, CO 80225
Telephone:  (303) 445-2108
Fax:  (303) 445-6693