NACD helps convene dialogue on emerging ecosystem markets

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By Bill Berry

Expert presenters at a recent National Network on Water Quality Trading spring dialogue (March 7-9) counted the many ways districts can be central to the success of water quality trading and other ecosystem services programs. NACD helped convene the gathering in Sacramento, California, along with the Willamette Partnership of Portland, Oregon, and Kieser & Associates engineers of Kalamazoo, Michigan.

John McDonald (second from right), chair of the Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District in Oregon, speaks during a panel discussion at the National Network on Water Quality Trading spring dialogue. Others on the panel (left to right) are Mark Kieser of Kieser & Associates engineers; Doug Beretta, Sonoma County, California dairy producer; Kari Wester, program manager with the Sonoma County Resource Conservation District in California; and TJ Mascia of RES, an ecological offset provider.

Bill Berry, NACD communications specialist, and Brian Brandt, American Farmland Trust director of agriculture conservation innovations, led a session that explored case studies of district involvement in water-quality trading programs. These programs generally involve point source polluters, such as municipal water treatment facilities, purchasing water quality “credits” generated by producers. These credits represent conservation work that has been proven to achieve water quality improvements, and point sources use these credits to met their regulatory obligations.

Once published, the case studies will give districts insight into many of the tools and resources they’ll need to partner in or lead ecosystem service programs in their communities. Districts serve a variety of roles in these programs, including providing technical assistance to producers, credit verification and certification, aggregation of water quality credits, and program administration. Participants in the dialogue provided input on development of a business plan for districts and other intermediaries interested in trading and other ecosystem services programs.

Other presenters included NACD Board Member Tom Wehri of the Placer Resource Conservation District in California; John McDonald, farmer and chair of the Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District in Oregon; and Kari Wester, program manager with the Sonoma Resource Conservation District in California. Aaron Lauster, national sustainable agriculture lead for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, spoke about the potential of the Resource Stewardship Evaluation Tool to serve ecosystem services markets, and Tom Hedt, NRCS state resource conservationist in California, identified linkages between markets and the conservation planning process.

Topics included linking conservation planning with ecosystem services projects, providing tools and resources for project intermediaries, engaging intermediaries in the program design process, and a discussion about how ecosystem services program support might be enhanced in the next farm bill.

McDonald reported on his district’s successful trading program and explained how the district has aggressively expanded its activities on several fronts.

Wester said her district’s experience with a water quality trading program had opened up additional opportunities for project funding. The Sonoma district is now part of a regional effort aimed at developing “carbon farming” throughout the North Bay Area and parts of the North Coast of California. Other districts involved include the Gold Ridge, Napa, and Mendocino RCDs.

Wehri noted that the planning process provides good data, but the next step is defining metrics. When it comes to trading programs and planning, he continued, partners need to look at both sides, and districts can serve as an important go-between.

Bill Berry is NACD’s communications specialist. He can be reached at billnick@charter.net.

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