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Environmental Markets Help Improve Water Quality

Posted by Kari Cohen, USDA-NRCS in Conservation
Nov 08, 2016
Environmental Markets graphic
Environmental trading markets are springing up across the nation.

Environmental trading markets are springing up across the nation with goals of facilitating the buying and selling of ecosystem services and helping more private landowners get conservation on the ground.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy joined Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe in December 2014 to announce the state’s first trade under its nutrient trading program for stormwater.

Through the transaction, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) purchased phosphorous credits generated on farms to offset phosphorous runoff from a road construction project. By purchasing the credits, VDOT saved approximately 50 percent of the cost of installing traditional engineered structures and paved the way for similar transactions.

Since then, Virginia’s stormwater trading program has blossomed—the state has approved almost 30 nutrient banks that can sell credits.

Recently, the National Network on Water Quality Trading—a forum for advancing the policy and practice of water quality trading—met to set the stage for development of a road map for innovative approaches to stormwater mitigation. Through these new approaches, cities and rural communities across the Nation would have access to online tools and models to help address stormwater challenges through market-based approaches and green infrastructure incentives.

“We want to make sure that our rural communities and agricultural producers are part of the stormwater conversation,” said USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Jason Weller.

The Willamette Partnership administers the National Network on Water Quality Trading through a Conservation Innovation Grant from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Conservation Innovation Grants are funded through the NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which is part of the Farm Bill. “I like to call the Farm Bill the Nation’s largest green infrastructure program,” said Weller.

USDA is seeking new proposals for cutting-edge projects, like environmental markets, that will provide new conservation opportunities through its Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program. Through USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the department will invest up to $25 million for projects that spark the development and adoption of innovative conservation technologies and approaches in areas like conservation finance, data analytics, and precision conservation to benefit producers on private agricultural and forest lands.

The next National Network on Water Quality Trading meeting is tentatively scheduled for the spring of 2017, and will focus on water quality trading challenges and opportunities for agricultural producers. Producers or organizations interested in participating in this meeting, should contact Kari Cohen, the National Leader for Environmental Markets and Conservation Finance at NRCS.

Category/Topic: Conservation

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