Ohio River Basin Water Quality Trading Project

A significant Clean Water Policy issue that we work on is #Nutrient pollution, specifically from nitrogen and phosphorus, which is causing significant problems throughout the Mississippi River Basin.  Hydrologically, at the confluence of the Mississippi River and the Ohio River, the Ohio’s flow is actually larger than the Mississippi.

Image Credit: EPRI

Of course, just like the Mississippi River, the Ohio also has its share of nutrient pollution problems.  Nutrient contributions to the Ohio include that from agriculture, primarily from states like Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Kentucky, but also every state contributes nutrient pollution from outdated wastewater treatment plants.

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) saw the writing on the wall, and in 2012, they introduced the Ohio River Basin Water Quality Trading Project.  EPRI partnered on this project with several other groups, including #ORSANCO.   KWA has been involved as an environmental stakeholder, and has continued to advocate for the public’s best interests on the project.

For this project, “water quality trading” refers to nutrient pollution credit trading.  What does that mean?  Well, there are a few steps in the process.  First, EPRI receives interest from a permitted wastewater discharger, like a power plant, that may have problems with reducing nutrient pollution from their facility.   At the same time, EPRI will engage farmers and pay them in advance to install various best management practices (BMPS) that will help reduce nutrient pollution from their operations.  This generates “credit”, which the permitted wastewater discharge can then purchase (the “trade”) as a way to reduce pollution in the overall river system.

Image Credit: EPRI

Of course, this process is not without its own problems or questions.

  • What is the method for measuring or estimating the nutrient reductions?
  • How are the permitted dischargers (purchasing the credits) still encouraged to update their facilities?
  • How is the effectiveness of the farmer BMPs measured?
  • What type of monitoring occurs to ensure overall reduction in nutrient pollution?
  • Can the public access the locations of the BMPs and the information about the trades?

This is not the first attempt to establish a water quality trading program in the United States.  It has primarily occurred on a smaller scale, but has also more recently been attempted in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, as a part of meeting the Chesapeake Bay #Total Maximum Daily Load.  Some of our water and environmental friends in the Bay are now challenging the legality of the trading program there, and are arguing that it does not fit within the overall framework of the Clean Water Act.   We hope that we do not have to pursue that route with the EPRI project, but rather, hope that as the pilot trade period progresses, EPRI continues to utilize adaptive management to improve the program before it moves to full implementation in 2015.