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Water Quality

Water quality credit trading can provide a cost-effective means to meet water quality goals and increase opportunities for conservation on private lands. USDA has been active in developing tools and registries to help facilitate these markets. Markets for nutrients, temperature, and sediment load reductions are developing across the U.S. Below are links to resources on water quality markets and tools to quantify water quality benefits from agricultural conservation.


National Network on Water Quality Trading
The National Network on Water Quality Trading is made up of diverse organizations representing agriculture, wastewater utilities, environmental groups, regulatory agencies, and the practitioners delivering water quality trading programs.

In It Together

A how-to reference for building point-nonpoint water quality trading programs developed by the Willamette Partnership. Part One gives an overview, Part Two covers designing and operating a trading program, and Part Three provides case studies.

  • Part One: an overview and current status of point-nonpoint water quality trading programs in the U.S.
  • Part Two: a reference for building and operating water quality trading programs.
  • Part Three: provides case study write-ups for water quality trading programs.
  • Opportunities for Action: provides a set of recommendations for the next iteration of point-nonpoint water quality programs in the U.S.

Building a TMDL to Support Water Quality Trading
This report provides suggestions on how total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) and other documents can be developed to better support water quality trading– especially point-nonpoint trading.

Building a Water Quality Trading Program: Options and Considerations
Building a Water Quality Trading Program walks through 11 key elements many trading programs consider in their design, with examples, options, and clear pros and cons for program design to help stakeholders build a program that meets local needs.

Water Quality Trading Toolkit
The Water Quality Trading Toolkit consists of five templates that work in concert with each other: state guidance, watershed framework, state rule, NPDES permit, and program annual report. The templates can be used as a starting point, a checklist of important considerations, or customizable sample language, making it faster and easier to develop transparent and accountable water quality trading programs.

Environmental Market Issue Papers
These issue papers, prepared by the World Resources Institute with support from USDA’s Office of Environmental Markets, investigate the roles of conservation programs and government in water quality trading markets.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Water Quality Trading Resources 
Water quality trading (WQT) under the Clean Water Act is an option for compliance with a water quality based effluent limitation (WQBEL) in a NPDES permit. EPA’s 2003 WQT Policy and 2007 WQT Toolkit for Permit Writers provide guidance to states, interstate agencies, and tribes on how to facilitate trading consistent with the CWA and its implementing regulations.

EPA’s Collaborative Approaches to Reducing Excess Nutrients
EPA has supported the use of water quality trading, offsets and similar programs for achieving compliance with the regulatory requirements of the Clean Water Act for many years. In partnership with stakeholders and other federal agencies, EPA has renewed this effort to leverage emerging technologies and facilitate broader adoption of market-based programs in the near-term.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Market Resources
While NRCS has substantial funding to dedicate to private lands conservation, environmental markets complement NRCS’s work by bringing private and other non-Federal investments to private lands conservation.

USDA-EPA National Workshop on Water Quality Trading 2015
Missed the workshop? Get caught up with these links:


Nutrient Tracking Tool (NTT): a tool to estimate nutrient and sediment losses from crop and pasture

Regulatory In-lieu Fee and Bank Information Tracking System (RIBITS): a national registry hosted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to house conservation banking data. Through a partnership with USDA, it is now being used to register credits in Iowa and Virginia.

EnviroAtlas: EnviroAtlas provides geospatial data, easy-to-use tools, and other resources related to ecosystem services, their stressors, and human health.