One of America’s great natural resources, the 64,000 square mile Chesapeake Bay, is in a state of decline largely as a result of nutrient pollution from farms and wastewater treatment plants. Too many nutrients in the water can lead to explosive algae growth which in turn blocks out sunlight and absorbs oxygen. Aquatic life dies out. More than 400 coastal waterways worldwide suffer from adverse effects of nutrient over-enrichment, also known as eutrophication.
Three states with an impact on the Chesapeake Bay – West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland – have been working with WRI to set up and launch a state-based regional nutrient trading market. Farmers can now go online and sell the nitrogen and phosphorous reduction credits they earn from better conservation practices to municipalities and companies that must meet mandated water pollution reduction requirements. It’s similar to the cap-and-trade approach that has reduced acid rain.
The establishment of a robust water quality trading market in the Chesapeake region will not only help reduce hard to manage nutrient pollution, but it will serve as an example for other multi-state watersheds, such as the Mississippi River Basin, as they seek cost-effective solutions for addressing eutrophication.