COSHOCTON, Ohio — Officials in more than 20 Ohio counties located within the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District are weighing options to create a jointly managed board that could help its counties receive nutrient trading credits and secure funding for new projects.
On Nov. 23, supervisors from soil and water conservation districts joined county commissioners at Coshocton’s Frontier Power Company to discuss forming the board, which is being called the Muskingum Watershed Nutrient Trading Program.
At the center of discussion was a recent project completed at Holmes County’s Alpine Cheese — the nation’s only licensed manufacturer of Jarlsberg cheese.
The company recently sought to expand production, but was required by Ohio EPA to reduce its phosphorous discharge. Alpine then entered into a permitted trading program known as Sugar Creek Nutrient Trading Program.
The company agreed to reduce phosphorous discharge and pay $800,000 over a five-year period, divided among the local Soil and Water Conservation District, the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and local farmers.
Richard Moore, OSU professor of community resource development, helped the Holmes County SWCD explore its options with a nutrient trading program, which allowed the company to trade nutrient credits, in place of costly facility upgrades.
He believes what worked in Holmes County can be an effective model for other counties in the Muskingum Watershed.
“What would really be good for Ohio and the country, would be to have our model that worked in Holmes County, at a larger scale,” he said.
A roll call of county SWCD representatives was taken, with most saying they would either approve action to form a joint board, or would discuss it with their full board of supervisors.
The alternative, some say, could be competition with power companies, especially those from outside watershed or possibly from outside the state.
“If we don’t lock down an area, you’re going to probably be trading to power companies on the Ohio River, rather than locally,” said Duane Wood, program administrator with Wayne County SWCD.
Concern also was voiced over a looming 14-state trading model, which several said could take nutrient credits and funding out of the region.
“You have to remember that there is a competing interest here, and that’s the power companies that want to do a 14-state trading area, and Ohio’s in it,” said Ann Obrecht, Wayne County Commissioner.
The meeting was called by commissioners in Wayne County, although its focus is to benefit the entire watershed.
Details of the multi-county board are still being decided. At least 23 counties are being considered, with some counties that are only partly in the watershed.
Chad Amos, program specialist with Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said every county represented would be allowed to serve on the board. However, Amos said it’s possible some counties may not want to participate with the decisions of the board, depending on how much of their county is located within the watershed.
Resolutions are expected to be finalized and sent to SWCDs in the Muskingum Watershed in the coming weeks, for their approval. The request to form the joint board would be sent to the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission.