Agriculture — A river runs through it — The connections between agriculture and water quality

Circular 1433
National Water-Quality Program
National Water-Quality Assessment Project
By: , and 



Sustaining the quality of the Nation’s water resources and the health of our diverse ecosystems depends on the availability of sound water-resources data and information to develop effective, science-based policies. Effective management of water resources also brings more certainty and efficiency to important economic sectors. Taken together, these actions lead to immediate and longterm economic, social, and environmental benefits that make a difference to the lives of the almost 400 million people projected to live in the United States by 2050.

In 1991, Congress established the U.S. Geological Survey National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) to address where, when, why, and how the Nation’s water quality has changed, or is likely to change in the future, in response to human activities and natural factors. Since then, NAWQA has been a leading source of scientific data and knowledge used by national, regional, state, and local agencies to develop science-based policies and management strategies to improve and protect water resources used for drinking water, recreation, irrigation, energy development, and ecosystem needs. Plans for the third decade of NAWQA (2013–23) address priority water-quality issues and science needs identified by NAWQA stakeholders, such as the Advisory Committee on Water Information and the National Research Council, and are designed to meet increasing challenges related to population growth, increasing needs for clean water, and changing land-use and weather patterns.

This report is one of a series of publications, The Quality of Our Nation’s Waters, which describes major findings of the NAWQA Project on water-quality issues of regional and national concern and provides science-based information for assessing and managing the quality of our groundwater resources. Other reports in this series focus on occurrence and distribution of nutrients, pesticides, and volatile organic compounds in streams and groundwater, the effects of contaminants and stream-flow alteration on the condition of aquatic communities in streams, and on the quality of groundwater from private domestic and public supply wells. Each reports builds toward a more comprehensive understanding of the quality of regional and national water resources. All NAWQA reports are available online (

We hope this publication will provide you with insights and information to meet your water-resource needs and will foster increased citizen awareness and involvement in the protection and restoration of our Nation’s waters. The information in this report is intended primarily for those interested or involved in resource management and protection, conservation, regulation, and policymaking at the regional and national levels.

Suggested Citation

Capel, P.D., McCarthy, K.A., Coupe, R.H., Grey, K.M., Amenumey, S.E., Baker, N.T., and Johnson, R.L., 2018, Agriculture — A River runs through it — The connections between agriculture and water quality: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1433, 201 p.,

ISSN: 2330-5703 (online)

Table of Contents

  • Foreword
  • Prologue—Lessons from Slugs and Beetles
  • The Agricultural Water and Chemical Use Footprint
  • Overview
  • Chapter 1. NAWQA Studies on Agriculture and Water Quality
  • Chapter 2. Overview of Agriculture and Water Quality
  • Chapter 3. Changes in the Nation’s Agriculture Over Time
  • Chapter 4. Terrain, Climate, Soil, and Water
  • Chapter 5. Water on the Pre-Agricultural Landscape
  • Chapter 6. Agricultural Water and Soil Management
  • Chapter 7. Water on the Modified Agricultural Landscape
  • Chapter 8. Chemicals in Crop and Animal Agriculture
  • Chapter 9. Connections Between Agriculture and Water Quality
  • Final Thoughts
  • References Cited
  • Glossary of Terms
  • Glossary of Farm Implements
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Agriculture — A river runs through it — The connections between agriculture and water quality
Series title Circular
Series number 1433
DOI 10.3133/cir1433
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) National Water Quality Assessment Program
Description Report: x, 201 p.; Data release
First page 1
Last page 201
Country United States
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details