Agricultural nonpoint source water pollution has long been recognized as an important contributor to U.S. water quality problems and the subject of an array of local, state, and federal initiatives to reduce the problem. A "pay-the-polluter" approach to getting farmers to adopt best management practices has not succeeded in improving water quality in many impaired watersheds. With the prospects of reduced funding for the types of financial and technical assistance programs that have been the mainstay of agricultural water quality policy, alternative approaches need to be considered. Some changes to the way current conservation programs are implemented could increase their efficiency, but there are limits to how effective a purely voluntary approach can be. An alternative paradigm is the "polluter pays" approach, which has been successfully employed to reduce point source pollution. A wholesale implementation of the polluter-pays approach to agriculture is likely infeasible, but elements of the polluter-pays approach could be incorporated into agricultural water quality policy.