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The state’s leading dairy lobbying group (Dairy Business Association) applauded the March 3 signing by Gov. Tony Evers of legislation that creates a streamlined process for trading water quality credits that will save taxpayers money and capitalize on farmers’ conservation practices.

The new law creates a “clean water clearinghouse” to make it easier for farmers who are reducing the runoff of nutrients such as phosphorous to trade with municipalities and manufacturers that surpass the allowable limit in their discharges. While state law already allows for this type of trading, it has been used relatively little. A centralized third-party system will likely make the trading more popular.

Tom Crave, president of the Dairy Business Association (DBA) and a farmer and cheesemaker in south-central Wisconsin, made these comments:

“This is a win-win-win for Wisconsin. Residents and customers won’t have to bear the full cost of updating wastewater treatment plants and other industrial facilities, our farmers will have a new revenue stream to offset some of the costs of their innovative efforts, and our water will be clean. That’s the ultimate goal.

“We appreciate Senator Cowles and Representative Kitchens for authoring the legislation and Governor Evers for supporting this common-sense way to facilitate more environmental stewardship work. Our dairy farmers are committed to using science and innovation to take nutrient management to the next level. Having another tool to use will only help in this mission.”

The basics of the clean water clearinghouse:

The clearinghouse approach for water quality credit trading will function something like existing markets for carbon credits. Various entities, including local water treatment facilities, cheese plants and other factories are required to meet limits for what pollutants or nutrients they can discharge to the environment. Phosphorus is one of the most commonly regulated nutrients. It can be expensive for a facility to filter its discharge sufficiently to reach its assigned target. In the case of treatment plants, those costs can result in higher fees for residents.

At the same time, there are environmental and farming organizations that are implementing innovative farming techniques or land use changes that reduce the amount of phosphorus in a watershed. Now, organizations doing that kind of work could sell credits from the phosphorus reductions they achieve, and other entities could buy them to offset the amount of phosphorus they need to remove from their waste.

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