Agents of Change
South Nation Conservation
South Nation Conservation (SNC) is a watershed-based organization located in Eastern Ontario, whose mission is to ensure that the management of natural resources and human activities results in the protection of water resources. SNC was formed in 1947 and oversees such programs as resource planning and management and environmental education for the 15 municipalities located within the watershed.
The South Nation River watershed is 3900 km2 in size and has a population of approximately 125 000. It supports activities such as farming (dairy and cash crop) along with regular municipal water usage. At times the watershed has exceeded the provincial water quality objective for phosphorus, in some cases rising to over four times the limit. Municipalities and other treatment plants are improving their wastewater treatment facilities to address this issue, but this is not always physically possible or economically desirable. For example, often the only option to improve wastewater treatment would be to install new water treatment technology, at a high cost to municipalities. In response to this issue, SNC developed and implemented a water quality trading program called Total Phosphorus Management (TPM) as part of its Clean Water Program.
Initiated as a pilot program in the fall of 2000 following extensive stakeholder consultations, the TPM is a program whereby new or expanding operators of wastewater lagoons who discharge their effluent to the watershed at peak flows (dischargers) are able to release phosphorus into the waterways so long as they offset the increased phosphorus load by helping to control phosphorus from non-point sources (such as agricultural run-off). The program consists of agreements between SNC and the dischargers, which stipulates that the dischargers will pay SNC a specified amount of money in exchange for credits for phosphorus released. The money received by SNC through the TPM agreements is then directed into their Clean Water Program. The Clean Water Program is a well-established program designed to work with landowners to implement best management practices, and is the mechanism used to develop projects that would receive funding from the TPM agreements. The projects that are eligible for funding must prevent phosphorus from entering the watercourse, thereby eliminating the need for its future treatment or removal. They must also be permanent in nature, and must have a means of calculating the estimated phosphorus reductions. Examples include manure storages, barnyard run-off control, and livestock restriction from waterways. The end result is that private landowners receive financial assistance to implement phosphorus reduction projects which meet TPM requirements, and those that help fund those projects receive credits for increased phosphorus discharging when necessary. Both landowners and dischargers find this system to be an economically viable method of improving water quality by reducing high phosphorus concentrations.
Since its inception, the South Nation Conservation has signed and implemented ten TPM agreements, seven of which are now completed. In the period from 2000 to 2007, 212 phosphorus-reducing projects were implemented through the watershed’s Clean Water Program, several of which were funded by the TPM. The program has successfully reduced phosphorus loading in the South Nation River System, has established an economically feasible method of meeting provincial phosphorus water quality objectives, and has created a strong relationship between all users and stakeholders of the watershed.
The TPM program is considered to be one of the most successful examples of credit trading programs in North America; South Nation Conservation receives several requests annually to present at national and international conferences. SNC has also provided training to staff at the US Environmental Protection Agency on program development and implementation for this approach to credit trading. Since its inception, the program has been the subject of numerous studies from both the environmental and the economical perspectives.
By using established scientific calculation methods, the reductions in phosphorus release to the South Nation watershed are estimated to be 9 966 kg/year. (The rate applies for several years, since the projects are long-term in nature). Of that total, only 3 040 kg/year were credited to dischargers through TPM agreements, resulting in a net reduction of phosphorus release. In addition, other environmental benefits have been observed as a result of these projects, including reduction of releases of other nutrients such as nitrogen, sediment, bacteria or other pathogens and other contaminants to the waterways. Several landowners reported less sediment in their creeks or streams, increase in fish quantity and diversity, and improved well water.
The economic benefits associated with this project are two-fold; the TPM program provides a more cost-effective approach for dischargers to meet or exceed the provincial standards for phosphorus release, and it provides a funding source for the Clean Water program and the landowners who implement capital improvement projects. Cost-benefit studies conducted in the watershed estimate that the cost of removing phosphorous through the TPM program is $1200 per kg, as compared to $2000 per kg for traditional wastewater treatment methods. The TPM has leveraged over $100,000 since 2000 for the Clean Water to implement phosphorus reduction projects, which have stimulated economic development in many sectors including consulting, permitting, construction labour and equipment, and materials.
The development and implementation of the TPM program is a strong example of achieving excellent results through stakeholder consultations and partnerships. Initial program opponents now support the program, and almost all participants reported feeling satisfied with program results (as reported though program evaluation surveys). Several program participants also commented on their observance of supplemental environmental benefits, and reported their increased appreciated and respect for the environment.
Awards and Recognition
2007 – Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment Pollution Prevention Awards - Innovation category, Honourable Mention
Water Quality Coordinator
P.O. Box 29
38 Victoria Street
Phone: 613-984-2948 ext. 251
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