On February 24, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced over $1.8 million in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) grants to five organizations that will use market-based approaches, including water quality trading, to enhance nonpoint source excess nutrient reduction efforts in the Great Lakes basin.
This action supports EPA’s 50th anniversary celebration, and its February theme of restoring America’s waters.
“Addressing emerging challenges, like excess nutrients in our waters, requires creative solutions,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
“This EPA funding will help build on existing state, local and tribal efforts and support innovative tools and technologies that will deliver critical water quality improvements at a lower cost,” he added.
Excess nutrients can lead to challenging environmental problems in the Great Lakes, including algae blooms, hypoxic zones and other surface water quality concerns. Currently, EPA is focusing its attention on reducing nutrient losses through enhanced federal and state coordination, stakeholder engagement and the use of market-, incentive- and community-based programs.
These grants are also part of a larger effort to restore and protect the Great Lakes and mark the first time EPA has requested competitive applications for water-quality trading projects under the GLRI.
“EPA is proud to offer GLRI funding to promote water quality trading and other market-based approaches to target nutrient runoff, one of the biggest threats to the health of the Great Lakes,” said Region 5 Administrator and Great Lakes National Program Manager Kurt Thiede.
“These innovative projects will encourage cost-effective ways to reduce the excess nutrients that can lead to algal blooms and other water quality issues,” he continued.
This larger effort is memorialized in the GLRI Action Plan III, which was unveiled by EPA Administrator Wheeler in October 2019. The Action Plan provides an aggressive roadmap that will guide Great Lakes restoration and protection activities by EPA and its many partners over the next 5 years.
The new grants include:
$303,181 to the Delta Institute (Chicago, Ill.)
“By implementing a performance-based agricultural conservation program, we will not only reduce pollution in the Kalamazoo River watershed, but we will also strengthen collaboration between agricultural producers upstream and harbor stakeholders downstream,” said Bill Schleizer, CEO of the Delta Institute.
“We are excited to continue our longstanding partnership with EPA and GLRI on this important project to create replicable and impactful water quality trading programs,” he added.
The Delta Institute will reduce excess phosphorus loading to Lake Michigan from cropland erosion, livestock access and road and bridge crossings through a market- and performance-based agricultural incentive program in targeted areas of the Kalamazoo River watershed.
$479,782 to the Conservation Technology Information Center (West Lafayette, Ind.)
“This grant will kick start an effort to link farmers who work to reduce nutrient loss with supply chain participants,” said Mike Komp, executive director of the CTIC.
“Through this partnership with farmers, researchers, market makers, and nonprofits, we will create the ability to quantify and reward farmers for their reductions in phosphorus loss. With all the issues related to water quality in the Western Lake Erie Basin, we hope to drive improvements through this market-based effort,” he explained.
The Conservation Technology Information Center and partners will create a pay-for-performance marketplace in the Maumee and Sandusky River watersheds to incentivize optimized use of phosphorus in farming operations and meet sustainability goals for consumer-packaged goods companies in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.
$338,438 to NEW Water (Green Bay, Wis.)
“Continued funding for Great Lakes protection yields many benefits for our economy, our natural resources, and for the communities that live and thrive on these precious waters,” said Tom Sigmund, executive director of NEW Water.
“We are grateful for this funding, which will allow us to be part of the solution to the vexing water challenges facing our utility and Northeast Wisconsin,” he added.
NEW Water will implement a cost-share program for the installation of permanent vegetative buffers on 35 acres of headwater streams in the Fox River watershed as part of an adaptive water quality trading approach.
$290,000 to the Great Lakes Commission (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
“The Great Lakes Commission is pleased to partner with US EPA and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative on exciting new market-based conservation investments in the Great Lakes Basin. Conservation Kick builds on the pioneering vision of the Great Lakes Basin Compact to efficiently and responsibly develop, use and conserve the water resources of the Basin,” said Darren Nichols, executive director of the Great Lakes Commission.
“We appreciate EPA and Administrator Wheeler’s investment in the next generation of innovation, conservation and Great Lakes stewardship as we build on earlier water quality trading efforts to expand the marketplace for willing buyers and sellers. Conservation Kick will enable motivated credit investors – including water utilities, industries and businesses, non-profit organizations and citizens – to fund conservation improvements on the land, keeping soil and nutrients out of the Great Lakes and protecting drinking water for 48 million North American citizens. This is an innovative win-win-win for farmers, communities, and the Great Lakes,” he continued.
The Great Lakes Commission will expand the use of water quality trading in the Great Lakes basin by creating a new incentive to participate in trading programs through the inclusion of drinking water utilities as potential buyers of water quality credits.
$437,000 to the Dairy Research Institute (Rosemont, Ill.)
“Designing a clearinghouse to facilitate water quality trading will boost existing water quality programs in Wisconsin resulting in greater market participation, broader adoption of best practices and technologies, and accelerated water quality benefits for all,” said Krysta Harden, executive vice president of global environmental strategy for Dairy Management Inc., and advisor to the Dairy Research Institute.
“We are appreciative of receiving EPA funding for this important project to improve water quality across the Great Lakes,” she added.
The Dairy Research Institute will identify and design the functional elements of a market-based, water quality trading clearinghouse in the Fox River watershed to assist in establishing, promoting and operating a transparent water quality trading marketplace.
Photo of Crisp Point Lighthouse on Lake Michigan via Adobe Stock.