On Aug. 18, the Willamette Partnership, Freshwater Trust, and U.S. EPA Region 10, as well as water quality agency staff from Idaho, Oregon, and Washington released draft recommendations on water quality trading approaches in the Pacific Northwest. The recommendations are based on the group’s evaluation of policies, practices, and programs across the country. The analysis helped the groups identify some common principles and practices to guide consistent approaches to water quality trading in the region. Pilot projects are expected to begin in Oregon, Idaho, and Washington this year.The documents produced from this process are not guidance or policy, so respective state participants choosing to develop trading guidance or rules do so according to their individual state processes.

Water quality trading 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 nonpoint and point sources.

Establishing a credible water quality trading program is not simple and trading may not be appropriate for many water quality problems. However, when designed well and combined with other tools, participating states believe that trading can help achieve water quality goals in a way that is consistent with the Clean Water Act, 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 a letter of support from U.S. EPA Region 10. Read more.