Water for Food

Mapping Ecosystem Markets

April 8, 2017
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Photos Credit: EPA

By Christopher Hartley, Deputy Director and Senior Environmental Markets Analyst, Office of Environmental Markets, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Washington, D.C. and Genevieve Bennett, Senior Associate, Ecosystem Marketplace

Hartley is a featured speaker at the 2017 Water for Food Global Conference. He is involved in the sessions, “Water Frontiers I: Drought, Water Risk and the Context for Water Markets” (April 10), Water Frontiers II: Case Studies of Water Markets 1” (April 10) and “Water Frontiers IV: Future Tools and Directions” (April 11). These sessions will be video recorded and archived on our YouTube channel following the event.

Ecosystem markets have gotten a lot of attention over the last few years as a tool to help landowners fund conservation, by linking good stewards with the entities who benefit from their stewardship. Homeowners for example might earn tax credits for capturing stormwater on their properties, or farmers and forest landowners could “grow” water quality credits by reducing nutrient and sediment runoff from their land. 

Market mechanisms have sprung up all over the country – from multi-state trading programs like in the Ohio River Basin to small-scale deals operating at a sub-watershed level – with projects numbering in the thousands today.

But it can be hard for actors on the ground to understand where ecosystem markets are working, and for government agencies to understand how best to support market-based approaches. In other words – we have a data problem.

A partnership between the USDA Office of Environmental Markets, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the nonprofit group Forest Trends is working to fix that.

The partners recently released a new addition to EnviroAtlas, the Federal data resource structured around ecosystem goods and services: new data that comprehensively maps markets and individual market-based projects across the United States. Markets and projects include forest and land-use carbon, imperiled species/habitats, wetland and stream, and watersheds. The data also includes “enabling conditions” for ecosystem markets, so that users can explore enabling policy, regulatory drivers, and guidance supportive of markets.

The market mechanisms highlighted on EnviroAtlas range from sophisticated trading systems to simple contracts between two parties. All share a common focus on finding cost-effective strategies for protecting or restoring ecosystem services. For example, a wastewater treatment plant may find it cheaper to pay farmers to implement Best Management Practices (BMPs) for nutrient management than to install new treatment technologies.

Landowners, meanwhile, will only participate in markets if it makes sense for them, so both parties end up benefitting from trading. Voluntary incentive-based collaborative approaches have already been used to conserve iconic species like the greater sage grouse, and are increasingly being used to address concerns over water quantity and water quality.

“We hope the new data can highlight opportunities for new partnerships or markets,” says Anne Neale, EPA EnviroAtlas Project Lead. “The EnviroAtlas platform allows you to look across multiple markets and understand their broader context – where restoration needs exist, what current land use patterns are, what enabling conditions are in place or could be helpful.”

The partnership also recently released a new report, An Atlas of Ecosystem Markets in the United States. It includes a series of maps generated with the new EnviroAtlas data exploring current status and key trends in market mechanisms for conservation, and is designed to double as a “primer” for those interested in learning more about ecosystem markets.

We’ve already seen that market mechanisms are helping to align incentives between many types of land managers to achieve landscape-level goals,” says Genevieve Bennett, a Senior Associate at Forest Trends. “One interesting dynamic we’ve seen in the data has been that in terms of land area affected, market mechanisms that include a public-private partnership element are having far more impact than public or private initiatives alone.”

You are invited to learn more about EnviroAtlas and other water market tools and resources at a workshop on market-based approaches to improving water use for drought risk management on April 10 and 11 as part of the 2017 Water for Food Global Conference theme, “Water for Food Security: From Local Lessons to Global Impacts.” The workshop is being co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Drought Mitigation Center, and the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute at the University of Nebraska.

Christopher Hartley. Photo Credit: USDA

Photo Credit: USDA

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