National Network on Water Quality Trading


The Challenge: 

More than half of the country’s streams, lakes, and estuaries are not meeting the goals of the Clean Water Act (CWA) to provide clean drinking water, or support recreation, fish and wildlife habitat, and other uses. Significant progress has been made through regulation of factories, power plants, wastewater facilities, and other such “point” sources, but there’s a lot of work left to do in unregulated sectors like residential, forest, and farm lands.

Water quality trading is a flexible means of reaching clean water and watershed goals where point sources have the option to work with farm and forest landowners to implement conservation practices and then purchase the resulting pollution reductions. However, despite a strong community of practitioners, water quality trading has not been widely adopted.

The Solution: 

In 2013 Willamette Partnership and World Resources Institute (WRI) convened 18 organizations representing farmers, utilities, environmental groups, regulatory agencies, and others delivering trading programs to form the National Network on Water Quality Trading (Network). The Network was established to discuss and develop solutions to the challenges faced by those administering or interested in developing water quality trading programs. For two years, Willamette Partnership and WRI facilitated the dialogue between those groups to build a common purpose, define success for water quality trading programs, and build a comprehensive resource that helps others avoid starting from scratch.


In 2015, Willamette Partnership and the WRI prepared Building a Water Quality Trading Program: Options and Considerations, a comprehensive publication that summarizes the outcomes of the Network’s initial dialogues. The document provides essential tools for new and evolving water quality trading programs, including guiding principles, options with pros and cons, and a consistently defined and used terminology. The strength of the report, and the Network itself, draws from a diversity of viewpoints and depth of experience.

Today with funding from the USDA-NRCS, Willamette Partnership continues to coordinate and facilitate the Network dialogue, connecting stakeholders, water quality agencies, and practitioners to share lessons learned and work collaboratively on innovations that can advance water quality trading as a strategy to help achieve clean water goals.

Project Docs

Website Resources/Links

National Network on Water Quality Trading:

Quick Links
Building a Water Quality Trading Program (6.1 MB, 222 pages)
Building a Water Quality Trading Program – Executive Summary
(1.3 MB, 6 pages)

Sector Specific Summaries:
For agriculture
For the clean water community
For state and interstate water quality administrators
For the environmental community
For trading practitioners

The purpose of the National Network is to establish a national dialogue on how water quality trading can best contribute to clean water goals. That includes providing options and recommendations to improve consistency, innovation, and integrity in water quality trading.

Our Experts
Carrie Sanneman, Clean Water Program Lead
Kristiana Teige Witherill, Clean Water Project Manager

Our Partners
National Network Participants with USDA as a technical advisor:
American Farmland Trust
Association of Clean Water Administrators
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Electric Power Research Institute
Environmental Defense Fund
Kieser & Associates, LLC
Maryland Department of Agriculture
Mississippi River Collaborative
National Association of Clean Water Agencies
National Association of Conservation Districts
National Milk Producers Federation
The Freshwater Trust
The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation
Troutman Sanders
U.S. Water Alliance
Willamette Partnership
World Resources Institute

The contributors to the National Network engaged in an extensive dialogue to develop the publication, Building a Water Quality Trading Program: Options and Considerations, and believe that it represents a comprehensive, contextual, balanced, and robust collection of information on different, representative water quality trading programs. New and evolving water quality trading programs should look to this document as an important source of information as they build and update their trading programs.

This document does not represent a consensus opinion, endorsement, or particular recommendation from any one National Network contributor. It seeks to cover the broad range of topics related to water quality trading to assist local stakeholders to develop and implement trading frameworks that meet local needs and conditions. This document does not create any binding requirements or standards of practice. Ultimately, local stakeholders, state regulators, and/or U.S. EPA will clarify those requirements that apply to any particular trading programs or trading program participants.

Related Services
Operational Support
Building Capacity