Pacific NW agencies, partners publish proposals for water quality trading

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PORTLAND, OR, Aug. 13, 2014 -- Water quality agency staff from the states of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 10, Willamette Partnership, and The Freshwater Trust, have released draft recommendations on approaches to water quality trading (WQT) in the Pacific Northwest.

The recommendations are based on the group's evaluation of policies, practices and programs across the country, which helped to identify some common principles and practices to guide consistent approaches to WQT in the region. Willamette Partnership facilitated the group through a Conservation Innovation Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

WQT is a market-based approach to achieving water quality goals for pollutants such as nitrogen, phosphorus and temperature. Through trading, some permitted emitters with high costs of reducing pollution are able to negotiate equal or greater pollution reductions from sources with lower cost. This effort focused specifically around trading between non-point and point sources.

Launched in March 2013, this effort came in response to the growing interest in trading in the region as well as the wide diversity of proposed approaches. The participants wanted to ensure that WQT programs have the quality, credibility and transparency necessary to be consistent with the Clean Water Act (CWA) and state water quality laws.

To do this, the workgroup identified the critical components of WQT programs and recommended a number of approaches to address these components. These recommended approaches are intended to increase the confidence of participants and observers that trades will produce their intended water quality benefits and will result in compliance with state and federal law.

Establishing a credible WQT program is not simple, and trading may not be appropriate for many water quality problems. However, when designed well and combined with other tools, the participating states believe that trading programs can help achieve water quality goals in a way that is consistent with the CWA; avoids localized water quality problems; is based in sound science; provides sufficient accountability that water quality benefits are being delivered; and is beneficial for the environment, landowners and communities. 

The group is releasing the draft recommendations document, "Regional Recommendations on Water Quality Trading," with an accompanying joint statement of support from the states and letter of support from EPA Region 10, which are the result of its work.

The participating states have committed to testing their recommendations and are currently working to identify pilot projects this year. The states and EPA will then reconvene in late 2014 or early 2015 to discuss their pilot experiences and, if needed, refine the guiding principles and draft recommendations for WQT by the fall of 2015. Since the documents produced from this process are not guidance or policy, the respective state participants that choose to develop trading guidance or rules in the future will do so according to their individual state processes.

See also:

"Water Quality Trading Helps Reduce Nutrients, Improve Ecosystems in Watersheds"

"National Water Quality Trading Alliance recently formed"

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