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USDA Joins Forces with USEPA to Support Water Quality Trading

lakeFollowing a major announcement of $2 million in Conservation Innovation Grants to support water quality trading markets, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) hosted a joint workshop to expand markets for water quality benefits generated on farms, ranches, and forest lands.

The USDA says water quality trading is an innovative approach to reduce pollution and efficiently achieve water quality goals. Trading is based on the fact that sources in a watershed can face very different costs to control the same pollutant. Trading programs allow facilities facing higher pollution control costs to meet their regulatory obligations by purchasing environmentally equivalent (or superior) pollution reductions from another source at lower cost, thus achieving the same water quality improvement at lower overall cost.

The USDA and USEPA signed a partnership agreement in 2013 to advance water quality trading and other market-based approaches that provide benefits to the environment and economy. "Conservation practices that improve soil health and conserve nutrients also produce real water quality benefits. With support from USDA and our Federal partners, water quality markets can create incentives to increase these environmental benefits and boost investment in rural America," says Ann Mills, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment.

The new water trading resources include:

  • EPA-USDA Water Quality Trading Roadmap: A decision support tool for those designing and participating in water quality trading programs. The Roadmap is a searchable database that consolidates policy guidance from EPA, information from State programs, and examples and supporting materials from across the U.S.
  • EPA-USDA partnership on EnviroAtlas to support environmental markets: environmental markets data layers will be incorporated into the Federal ecosystem service decision support tool, EnviroAtlas. The data layers will show where markets for water, carbon, wetlands, and habitats occur on the U.S. landscape; provide information about these markets; and allow this information to be displayed in the context of existing environmental data from Federal agencies.
  • Nutrient Tracking Tool (NTT): This fall the USDA will release the next version of NTT. The new version of NTT is a USDA hosted, user-friendly, web-based tool that calculates edge of field nutrient and sediment loads for use in conservation planning and environmental market credit calculation. NTT will be made available in additional regions in 2016.
  • USDA Environmental Markets Website: Department-level environmental markets website that integrates information, tools and resources on environmental markets from across the Department, allowing users to easily gain a snapshot of environmental market activities at USDA.

Among the 2015 Water Quality Trading Conservation Innovation Grant Awardees are Conservation Marketplace Midwest and the National Association of Conservation Districts. The Minnesota-based Conservation Marketplace Midwest will receive $243,933 to develop and pilot a Field Stewards program, an innovative conservation credit system designed to allow companies in the food industry to buy "offsets" for water quality and agricultural conservation. Through the purchase of certification credits, food companies can demonstrate sustainability to their customers without having to create a new chain-of-custody supply chain for agricultural commodities, keeping costs low for retailers and the consumer. The National Association of Conservation Districts is slated to receive $116,725 to develop guidance materials and engage in outreach and training to increase participation of soil and water conservation districts in nutrient trading programs. In many water quality trading programs, district employees are the conservation experts interacting with agricultural producers generating credits from the installation of conservation practices.

If you have questions about water quality trading, contact Jeff Hruby, AE2S Civil Practices Director, at Jeff.Hruby@ae2s.com, or Scott Schaefer, AE2S Wastewater Practice Leader, at Scott.Schaefer@ae2s.com.

If you have any questions concerning the content of this newsletter,
please contact Heather Syverson at 701-364-9111 or Heather.Syverson@ae2s.com.
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