Water quality credit tools and rules

Water quality credits are the quantified and verified units of environmental benefit that come from conservation and restoration actions on the ground. Willamette Partnership uses the Ecosystem Credit Accounting System (ECAS) to consistently track the ecological benefits of conservation investments for water quality. These conservation investments may be voluntary or driven by regulations. These credits have been used for water quality trading under regulatory requirements. Quantifying water quality credits can also provide increased accountability around incentive programs and other kinds of conservation investments.

  • Nitrogen & phosphorus credits: These nutrients act as fertilizer for algae and aquatic plants, provid­ing the foundation for aquatic food chains, but too much nitrogen or phosphorus can cause algal blooms, which reduce the amount of oxygen available to fish and other organisms. Nutrient credits provide a way to track reductions in runoff from conservation practices, both as an alternative to building expensive treatment technology and as a way of tracking progress toward watershed load reduction goals.
  • Thermal credits: Warm streams are a major limiting factor for salmon recovery—a problem with roots in lost watershed functions. Thermal credits provide a way for collective investment in restoring riparian shade, increasing instream flow, and other actions to prevent water from heating up rather than build expensive, mechanical cooling infrastructure.

Tools and Instructions

  • Nutrient Tracking Tool (NTT) – The Nutrient Tracking Tool is a web-based application for applying the field-scale runoff functions of the Agricultural Policy/Environmental eXtender Model (APEX). NTT estimates the nutrient and sediment load leaving a farm field. Designed and developed by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and Texas Institute for Applied Environmental Research at Tarleton State University (TiAER), NTT is intended for use by agricultural professionals or others familiar with farm procedures and conservation practices. NTT is approved by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for use in water quality trading but has not yet been applied.
  • State Policy Tools – Water Quality Trading Toolkit  – The toolkit makes it faster and easier for state agencies and stakeholders to develop robust trading programs that achieve clean water goals. The toolkit consists of 5 templates that work in concert with each other: state guidance, watershed framework, state rule, NPDES permit, and program annual report. The templates can be used as a starting point, a checklist of important considerations, or customizable sample language. They were built to go along with the National Network on Water Quality Trading publication, Building a Water Quality Trading Program: Options and Considerations.
  • Shade-a-lator Versions 6.2, 8.0.5, & 8.0.8 – The Shade-a-lator is component of the HeatSource model, developed by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The Shade-a-lator component calculates thermal load reductions, in kcal/day, from riparian shade restoration projects. Version 6.2 is best suited for field data collection, Version 8.0.5 and 8.0.8 are updated versions (collectively, Version 8) best suited to application via ArcGIS, using the TTools add-on created by Oregon DEQ.
  • Water Temperature Transactions Tool (W3T) – Developed by Watercourse Engineering with National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Farm Stream Solutions, The Freshwater Trust, and Willamette Partnership, W3T provides a method of quantifying temperature reductions from flow restoration. We are currently developing a flow crediting protocol so that we can allow restoration of in-stream flow as another eligible action to generate thermal credits.