Great Lakes Commission releases new framework to improve Western Lake Erie through investments in water quality credits

Feb 22, 2018 | News and Announcements

Ann Arbor, Mich.  – The Great Lakes Commission (GLC) today released a framework for helping Western Lake Erie basin states collaborate to reduce phosphorus entering the lake, where it can contribute to the formation of harmful algal blooms (HABs) and dead zones. The Erie P Market Framework was completed as part of a Great Lakes Commission-led project to test market-based approaches to incentivize agricultural practices that control phosphorus runoff. In December 2017, representatives from Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana agreed to use the framework to guide the generation and sale of phosphorus credits. The credits are created when credit sellers in agriculture reduce phosphorus losses from their fields. Ontario also participated, sharing lessons learned from similar efforts in the province.

“There is no silver bullet that can resolve the HABs issue on its own, but the sale of phosphorus credits is a promising strategy. This option should be available for the agriculture community to consider in their collective nutrient management efforts in Western Lake Erie,” said Karl Gebhardt, Deputy Director for Water Resources at the Ohio EPA and GLC Alternate Commissioner. “I am pleased to have this framework to help guide a market-based approach to improving water-quality for Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.”

“This project sets the stage for private investments to support the region’s efforts to improve Lake Erie and maintain its agricultural heritage,” said Brian Brandt, Director of Agriculture Conservation Innovations at the American Farmland Trust.

The Erie P Market project started out focusing on traditional water quality trading where facilities with phosphorus limits in their permit, like wastewater treatment facilities, could help meet their permit limits by paying for phosphorus reductions upstream. The upstream facilities would buy credits from farmers that do extra conservation work to reduce phosphorus. However, research by the project team concluded that a strong traditional market for trading did not yet exist in the Western Lake Erie Basin. As a result, the team expanded the framework to also allow for “stewardship crediting,” which opens the market to a more diverse set of potential buyers interested in buying credits for the environmental benefit rather than meeting a permit requirement. Water quality trading and stewardship crediting both offer more sustainable conservation efforts than traditional agricultural conservation programs, which often have a time limit.

The GLC is working with farmers from Western Lake Erie watersheds interested in improving water quality by doing more conservation work to generate phosphorus credits. The GLC would then use the framework to determine the actual credits available for sale, negotiate an appropriate price, and recruit buyers interested in investing agricultural conservation and water quality improvements

Organizations interested in purchasing phosphorus credits should contact the GLC at 734-971-9135 or by emailing Water Quality Program Manager Nicole Zacharda.

The Great Lakes Commission, led by chairman John Linc Stine, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, is an interstate compact agency established under state and U.S. federal law and dedicated to promoting a strong economy, healthy environment and high quality of life for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region and its residents. The Commission consists of governors’ appointees, state legislators, and agency officials from its eight member states. Associate membership for Ontario and Québec was established through the signing of a “Declaration of Partnership.” The Commission maintains a formal Observer program involving U.S. and Canadian federal agencies, tribal authorities, binational agencies and other regional interests. The Commission offices are located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Learn more at


For media inquiries, please contact Beth Wanamaker, [email protected].

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