Great Lakes Commission receives funding to examine water quality trading in Western Lake Erie

For immediate release: September 17, 2015  |   Download News Release PDF

Ann Arbor, Mich. – With support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Great Lakes Commission will soon embark on a three-year effort in partnership with member states and the Province of Ontario to test water quality trading as a tool for improving water quality in the western basin of Lake Erie.

Lake Erie provides drinking water to more than 11 million residents and supports a $1.5 billion sport fishing industry. The lake is a vital resource for the binational Great Lakes region. In recent years, Lake Erie has experienced a resurgence in algal blooms and associated problems like the toxic bloom that left more than 400,000 residents in the Toledo, Ohio area without access to public drinking water for two days in August 2014. Algae blooms are linked to excessive nutrients that drain into the lake from a multitude of sources.

Water quality trading is an innovative, market-based approach with potential to complement voluntary, regulatory and other approaches to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution from nonpoint sources in western Lake Erie. With trading, water quality credits are earned for reducing pollution and those credits are sold to entities that are faced with high pollution control costs. A common example is where a wastewater treatment facility pays a farmer upstream to reduce pollution going into that same waterbody, beyond what is required, instead of making more expensive treatment investments at the end of the pipe.

Four state and provincial jurisdictions contain the watersheds that drain into Lake Erie’s western basin: Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario. This project will build on lessons learned from other multijurisdictional water quality trading programs, including a water quality trading project that involves Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky on the Ohio River and a project on the Lower Fox River in Wisconsin.

There can be multiple advantages to water quality trading. For those facing regulatory requirements to reduce their pollution, water quality trading can offer a more cost effective approach. Additionally, where the credits are generated by a farm or other nonpoint pollution source, there are ancillary environmental benefits, such as increased flood control or improved habitat for fish and wildlife.

The Great Lakes Commission’s water quality trading project will complement numerous other initiatives underway to help address water quality problems in Lake Erie. For example, the Governors of Ohio and Michigan and the Premier of Ontario signed a Western Basin of Lake Erie Collaborative Agreement in June 2015 pledging to work toward a 40 percent reduction in phosphorus loadings. The parties to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement will establish phosphorus loading targets for Lake Erie by the end of 2016.

“Our experience in other parts of the Great Lakes region suggests that water quality trading is another potential tool in the water quality toolbox that merits further exploration in western Lake Erie,” said Victoria Pebbles, program director for the Great Lakes Commission. “We look forward to working with our member states and Ontario to explore this approach to help reduce nutrient and sediment pollution in this important watershed.”

Funding support for the project comes from USDA’s Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program. CIG is a voluntary program intended to stimulate the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches and technologies while leveraging federal investments in environmental enhancement and protection, in conjunction with agricultural production. USDA’s CIG funds have been used to investigate and establish water quality trading programs in several other parts of the United States.

Contact: Victoria Pebbles, Great Lakes Commission; office: 734-971-9135, cell: 734-320-2788, vpebbles@glc.org

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The Great Lakes Commission, led by Acting Chair Jon W. Allan, director of the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, is an interstate compact agency established under state and U.S. federal law and dedicated to promoting a strong economy, healthy environment and high quality of life for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region and its residents. The Commission consists of governors’ appointees, state legislators, and agency officials from its eight member states. Associate membership for Ontario and Québec was established through the signing of a “Declaration of Partnership.” The Commission maintains a formal Observer program involving U.S. and Canadian federal agencies, tribal authorities, binational agencies and other regional interests. The Commission offices are located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Learn more at www.glc.org.

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