EPA Announces New Water Quality Trading Policy


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EPA Announces New Water Quality Trading Policy

By: Steve Williamson, CPG

EPA has announced that they have developed new guidance for Clean Water Act (CWA) NPDES water quality trading programs. EPA is trying to modernize the agency’s current water quality policies to facilitate broader adoption of market-based programs. Assistant Administrator David Ross announced that the new policy will help states, tribes and stakeholders use market incentives and community-based programs to reduce excess nutrients in surface water bodies, and improve water quality in their communities. Mr. Ross stated:

“An important part of improving our nation’s water quality is leveraging the collective resources of the federal family and improving relationships with our partners on the ground.

“Building on efforts already underway at the state, local and tribal level, EPA is taking a number of steps to help facilitate the use of a broad range of tools and technologies that will deliver critical water quality improvements at a lower cost.”.

The EPA identified six market-based principles that are designed to encourage innovation in the development and implementation of trading programs so that pollutants in our nation’s waters can be reduced. The six principles are:

  1. States, tribes and stakeholders should consider implementing water quality trading and other market-based programs on a watershed scale.
  2. EPA encourages the use of adaptive strategies for implementing market-based programs.
  3. Water quality credits and offsets may be banked for future use.
  4. EPA encourages simplicity and flexibility in implementing baseline concepts.
  5. A single project may generate credits for multiple markets.
  6. Financing opportunities exist to assist with deployment of nonpoint land use practices.

EPA will be hosting a webinar on this topic on March 5, 2019 to further discuss this work. To participate send an email to nutrients@epa.gov. More information regarding collaborative and market-based approaches to reducing excess nutrients and water quality trading is available on EPA’s Collaborative Approaches website.

Published in Cox-Colvin’s February 2019 Focus on the Environment newsletter.


Steve Williamson is a Senior Scientist with Cox-Colvin & Associates, Inc. He holds a BS degree in Environmental Health and an MS degree in Hydrogeology from Wright State University. Mr. Williamson has over 30 years' experience working on brownfields, solid and hazardous waste, and groundwater contamination projects in Ohio and the Midwest.