When USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) awarded a Conservation Innovation Grant to the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in 2009, the notion of administering the nation’s largest water quality trading program in the Ohio River Basin was a twinkle in the eye of EPRI scientist Jessica Fox.
Fast forward to 2015—the multi-state water-trading program is a reality, and the Institute was one of three entities to be awarded this year’s Water Prize by the U.S. Water Alliance.
Through Conservation Innovation Grants, NRCS funds projects that develop innovative approaches and technologies for natural resource conservation on agricultural lands. These grants have funded more than 60 environmental markets projects, including a number of the nation’s leading market efforts.
EPRI’s program, launched when the states of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana signed a multi-state compact in 2012, works with agricultural producers who voluntarily implement conservation practices that reduce nutrient runoff into local waters. Through the program’s first trades in March 2014, three energy companies purchased these credits and retired them for associated nutrient and ecosystem benefits.
On April 13, In front of a crowded auditorium at the National Geographic Society in Washington, DC, Former EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe awarded the prize to Fox who accepted on behalf of EPRI. Perciasepe expressed admiration for EPRI’s ability to innovate and engage stakeholders from Duke Energy to the Ohio Farm Bureau, and everyone in between.
In her award acceptance remarks, Fox noted that part of the project’s success is that EPRI was never satisfied with developing the nation’s largest water quality trading program, or executing the first trades. “We are always pushing and striving, looking forward to the next chapter.”
The next chapter for the Institute begins on May 20 when it holds a public auction for nutrient credits in New York City. These credits were generated through the installation of cover crops, livestock fencing and other conservation practices on 30 farms last summer.
Click here for a video of Fox describing the project and what it means to win the 2015 U.S. Water Prize.
Find out more about NRCS Conservation Innovation Grants.