INDIANAPOLIS — Five Southeast Indiana Soil and Water
Conservation Districts are breaking new ground in the field of water quality
The SWCDs in Dearborn, Ohio, Ripley, Switzerland and Wayne
counties are participating in pilot testing of a large U.S. water quality
trading program. Water quality trading is an approach to achieve water quality
goals for nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen cost effectively.
In this pilot program, farmers will be paid with private
dollars to install best management practices to reduce the runoff of phosphorous
and nitrogen. The nutrient reductions will be sold as credits to permitted
facilities that may need them to meet regulatory compliance obligations.
Among the conservation BMPs farmers may be installing
include: cover crops, nutrient management, vegetative filter strips, grass
waterways, livestock exclusion, forage and biomass planting, heavy use area
protection and conservation tillage.
The leadership demonstrated by these first SWCDs in Indiana
to test the program will help pave the way for Hoosier farmers to voluntarily
participate in the water quality trading market in the Ohio River Basin once it
is fully established by 2016.
The states of Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky signed an
interstate trading agreement in August 2012. Even before that, SWCD supervisors
in these five southeast Indiana counties unanimously approved motions to
participate in the project and sent letters of support to the program manager,
the Electric Power Research Institute.
District leaders recognized that water quality trading could
be a win-win situation in fulfilling mutual goals of soil conservation and water
quality, breaking new ground for water quality.
“The early recognition from the SWCD supervisors of the
potential importance of this market and their willingness to step up will pave
the way for agricultural producers to benefit from this alternative source of
private cost-share money,” said Darrell Nicholson, U.S. Department of
Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service area conservationist in
Indiana’s state conservationist, Jane Hardisty, also is a
supporter of the program.
“This project will complement the work of NRCS and the
Indiana Conservation Partnership,” she said. “It provides another opportunity
for producers to implement a system of conservation practices that increase soil
health on their land, benefiting both soil and water quality.”
The SWCDs help producers in their counties submit
applications. If accepted, they will sign agreements with the individual SWCDs
to implement the practices and maintain them for five years in exchange for the
The trading agreement serves as the basis for the three
states to implement pilot trades beginning this year through 2015. Although some
states have adopted trading policies or rules to govern trading within their
jurisdictions, this is the first time that several states have come together to
implement an interstate trading program where all states operate under the same
As part of the partnership, the state Department of
Agriculture is the lead agency for Indiana on the project and has contracted
with the EPRI and the five SWCDs.
The SWCDs also are working with the American Farmland Trust,
one of the project’s collaborators, to recruit farmers to participate in the
early pilot trades and calculate how many pounds of nutrients their proposed
practices may reduce.
They are helping the project collaborators learn what works
and what doesn’t in executing these trades. The project pays producers up to 75
percent of the cost of implementing agricultural conservation practices that
reduce the loading of nitrogen and phosphorus in watersheds.
The project is looking for a range of different practices to
test based on the amount of nutrient reductions per dollar spent. Considerations
include the extent to which additional environmental benefits – such as carbon
sequestration or wildlife habitat — are produced, whether priority concerns for
the SWCD or state agencies are being met and whether producers are willing to
participate in media events or outreach to other producers.
During the pilot trading period, eight to 15 Indiana
producers will implement practices that will keep 66,000 pounds of nitrogen and
33,000 pounds of phosphorus out of the Ohio River Basin. More information can be
found at http://wqt.epri.com.