The Chesapeake Bay is the nation’s largest estuary, and one of its most treasured and important natural landscapes. Its watershed stretches through six states, including Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia. For centuries, the bay has provided livelihoods and recreation to those that have lived by its shores. However, as agriculture and industry have grown along the Chesapeake, so too has the need to protect and preserve the bay’s ecosystem from the pollution these activities can create.  

This episode of the WRI Podcast features Cy Jones, a senior fellow in WRI’s water program; Sara Walker, an associate in WRI’s water program; and Beth McGee, is director of science and agricultural policy at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Together with Lawrence MacDonald, they discuss how nutrient and water quality trading can help meet the nutrient reduction targets needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

What Is Nutrient Trading and How Can it Help?

Nutrient trading allows dischargers that have reduced their nutrient discharges more than required to sell their excess reductions as credits to other dischargers. For example, a farmer who installs a grass buffer along a stream to filter out fertilizer run-off would accumulate credits. They could sell those credits to municipal wastewater treatment plants or stormwater management units that are having trouble reducing their pollution.

A new paper by WRI and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) outlines how nutrient trading can form the basis for a cost-effective solution to pollution in the stormwater sector. Implementing a nutrient trading system within the bay watershed that includes the stormwater sector could significantly reduce pollution removal costs, saving hundreds of millions of dollars per year while helping to restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

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