Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) is working with the agriculture community in Ohio to get a water quality program started in the Ohio River Basin, which extends from New York to Tennessee.
The project started two years ago and would allow selling water quality credits for nitrogen and phosphorous. Power plants and manufacturers with high pollution costs could buy nutrient reduction credits from farms that used conservation practices. The program’s goal is to improve water quality more efficiently and reduce hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. Studies have indicated man-made pollution has contributed to the formation of dead zones in the ocean. The Ohio River is a major contributor of agricultural sediments in the Mississippi River basin.
“It’s the same thing that has been done with carbon trading but in this case it involves water quality,” said Larry Antosch, Ohio Farm Bureau’s senior director of program innovation and environmental policy. “In the Ohio River Basin, there are over 1,900 municipal wastewater treatment plants, 500 industrial discharges and over 100 power plants so we’re dealing with a lot of potential for trading.”
Electric Power Research Institute developed the program, which recently received $1.4 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, American Electric Power and Duke Energy. That money will go toward starting the second phase of the project – pilot water quality trades between farmers and public utilities in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Illinois.
Ohio Farm Bureau and American Farmland Trust are chairing an agricultural stakeholder committee that is examining the market structure. American Farmland Trust will be contacting local soil and water conservation districts in pilot trade areas to find farmers who are willing to install conservation practices and sell their credits to utility companies. The pilot areas and utility participants have not been determined yet.
“Ohio Farm Bureau is interested in the project from a logistical standpoint. How can such a large project be set up and how will everyone agree?” asked Antosch, who said those involved in the project have been communicating through webinar sessions due to the geographic extent of the project. The goal is to have the pilot sites and participants identified and farmers under contract in 2012 with credits starting in 2013, he said.
“Farmers who participate will have a revenue stream that would help them implement conservation practices,” Antosch said. “We want to make sure that we have something in the end that farmers feel comfortable with.”
Photo by Galen Harris