The National Irrigation Water Quality Program (NIWQP) 
(Note: This multi-agency Department of Interior project appears to be a spending black hole, with at least 77 management-level employees and endless future project possibilities, thanks to the Endangered Species Act.) 
The NIWQP is an intra-departmental program that evaluates Department of the Interior irrigation projects; considers drainwater contamination and related impacts to endangered species and/or migratory birds; assesses legal responsibilities that are associated with environmental laws; and develops and implements alternatives for remediation. The program also evaluates irrigation drainwater impacts to refuges and is responsible for remediation of such impacts, provided the source of contamination is an Interior irrigation project. Program participants are the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and the Bureau of Reclamation. These agencies work cooperatively to resolve endangered species and/or migratory bird treaty issues on Reclamation and BIA irrigation projects. (DOI)
Eight-page printable brochure:


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 were initiated 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.

Program Phases
The National Irrigation Water Quality Program was designed to be conducted in five distinct phases.

Phase 1, 2, and 3 investigations were conducted by interbureau study teams composed of scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey as team leaders with participation by scientists from US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and Bureau of Indian Affairs, as appropriate. The investigations were directed toward determining whether irrigation drainage (1) had caused or had the potential to cause significant harm to fish, wildlife, or human health or (2) could adversely affect the suitability of water for other beneficial uses. Phase 4 and 5 remediation efforts are being lead by the agency that constructed the project.

Phase 1: Site Identification
Examination of existing information to determine sites likely to have irrigation-induced contamination problems.

Phase 2: Reconnaissance Investigations
Field sampling studies to determine levels of potentially toxic chemical constituents in water, sediment, plants, fish, and migratory waterbirds.

Phase 3: Detailed Studies
Field studies to gather information to identify the extent of any biological impacts. Detailed studies include identification of sources, transport mechanisms and fate of potentially toxic chemicals, and quantification of adverse impacts.

Phase 4: Remediation Planning
Development of remediation alternatives to alleviate any existing biological impacts found during Phase 3. Planning is coordinated with appropriate Federal, state, and local agencies.

Phase 5: Remediation Implementation
Implementation of corrective actions identified in Phase 4.

Current Project Activities

Gunnison-Grand Valley Project, Colorado

Kendrick Reclamation Project Area, Wyoming

Middle Green River Basin, Utah

Salton Sea Area, California

Stillwater Wildlife Management Area, Nevada

Freezeout Lake, Montana


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


N. John Harb
Bureau of Reclamation
National Irrigation Water Quality Program
P.O. Box 25007, D-6200
Denver, CO 80225



Bureau Coordinators:

Frank Rinella
U.S. Geological Survey
10615 S.E. Cherry Blossom Drive
Portland, OR 97216
Craig Moore
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Ecological Services, MS-60120
P.O. Box 25486
Denver, CO 80225
303-236-7400-ext. 243

Bob Krakow/
Ernie Teller

Bureau of Indian Affairs
304 N. Auburn, Suite B
Farmington, NM 87401-5838
N. John Harb
Bureau of Reclamation
National Irrigation Water Quality Program
P.O. Box 25007, D-6200
Denver, CO 80225



Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office Contacts:

Bureau of Reclamtion
Regional and Area Office Contacts:
Region 1: Don Steffeck
Lower Colorado (LC) Region: Jim Setmire
Region 2: Steve Robertson
Great Plains (GP) Region: Jeffrey Lucero
Region 6: Larry Gamble
Upper Colorado (UC) Region: Jerry Miller
Mid Pacific (MP) Region: Mike Delamore

NIWQP Core Teams

Gunnison/Grand Valley
Core Team Members

Core Team Members

Mike Baker, USBR
(Team Leader)

Mark Spears, USBR
(Team Leader)

Middle Green
Core Team Members

Salton Sea
Core Team Members
Steve Noyes, USBR
(Team Leader)
Jim Setmire, USBR
(Team Leader)
David Naftz, USGS

Core Team Members

Freezeout Lake
Study Team Members

Ralph Seiler, USGS

Dave Nimick, USGS

NIWQP Roster

(77 DOI employees)