This week, I have the privilege of participating in the first ever EPA-USDA National Workshop on Water Quality Markets at the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute in Lincoln, Nebraska. More than 200 attendees from agriculture, utilities, industry, state agencies, and research institutions gathered at the University of Nebraska’s aptly named “Innovation Center” to think critically about how we can improve and expand water quality markets across the country.
As Secretary Vilsack noted in his introductory video remarks, water quality markets can be effective tools in helping communities improve the quality of their water at lower cost. Markets create financial incentives for private landowners to manage their lands more sustainably to produce cleaner water while generating environmental benefits at lower cost. They promote public awareness of the role sustainable private land management can play in protecting public health and natural ecosystems. They inject private dollars and innovation into efforts to improve water quality – leveraging finite federal funding.
The breadth of participants and the 30-plus in-depth sessions covering trading fundamentals, tools for trading, science and technology, economics, innovations and existing regional market success stories reflect how far this community has come. The workshop’s goal is to inspire this group of talented leaders in the field to identify the next set of high priority actions needed to help scale the water quality markets in watersheds across the nation, recognizing that each community and watershed has unique needs and markets need to be tailored to meet those needs. USDA has played a significant role in supporting water quality market development – including investing more than $15 million in Conservation Innovation Grants since 2011. Yesterday, USDA/NRCS announced an additional $6 million in CIG grants supporting partner innovation across the country.
Over the next two days, I’m looking forward to learning more about the great work being done by our partners. I’m equally excited about coming away with a clear road map for how USDA and our partners can continue to support this innovative approach to supporting producers and rural communities while protecting our natural resources. Thanks for following along. Stay tuned for more updates and announcements on water quality markets from Lincoln.