Great Lakes Protection Fund Supports Innovative Partnership To Reduce Agricultural Pollutants in Milwaukee River Watershed


Grant funding from the Great Lakes Protection Fund (GLPF) will support a multi-disciplinary partnership to reduce harmful runoff from agricultural lands in the Milwaukee River Watershed. A team led by nonprofits Winrock International, Delta Institute and Sand County Foundation will direct the effort.

The three-year, $957,000 grant seeks to decrease the amount of phosphorus (P) that flows into local streams and rivers, which has been linked to an increase in damaging algal blooms in the Great Lakes. The project team will pilot-test an innovative outcome-based incentive program and work with local farmers to help them discover the most cost-effective methods for reducing P loss from their individual fields. This outcome-based incentive — or “pay-for-performance” approach — will help motivate farmers to seek out and implement new and better ways to address the problem of nutrient loss.

“This project has the potential to reduce farming’s environmental impact in the upper Midwest, while preserving, and ideally increasing, farmers’ per acre revenue,” says Rodney Ferguson, Winrock International president and CEO. “Once developed and piloted, our suite of tools will help farmers take the most cost-effective actions to reduce nonpoint source pollution. These reductions can be bundled and marketed to other stakeholders in the Great Lakes watershed, such as wastewater treatment plants. The revenue will go to the farmers as compensation for their conservation activities.”

Delta Institute of Chicago is helping spearhead this pilot effort. Delta CEO Jean Pogge says, “This model for improving water quality has implications for other Great Lakes watersheds and beyond. If successful, this effort could lead to a significant reduction in pollutants to critical water resources across the country – creating healthier ecosystems and stronger economies.”

Sand County Foundation began work with farmers to improve water quality in the Milwaukee River Watershed in 2010. “In all Sand County Foundation programs, the landowner is the focus,” says Brent M. Haglund, president, Sand County Foundation. “Decisions based on a landowner’s sense of responsibility, science appropriate to the environmental improvement, and meaningful incentives — in this case based on pay-for-performance — will provide more public benefits at lower overall cost than many attempts to impose regulatory barriers.”

Each partnering organization brings uniquely relevant experience to the team. The project will expand Sand County Foundation’s work on reducing nutrient runoff throughout the Midwest and strengthen their ongoing relationships with producers in the Milwaukee River Watershed. The modeling and economic analysis components of the project directly build upon Delta Institute’s pioneering work in carbon markets and aggregation. Winrock’s implementation of pay-for-performance programs in other parts of the U.S. will provide the foundation for developing and carrying out activities uniquely adapted to the Milwaukee River context. Finally, an external advisory committee of Great Lakes leaders will guide the project, engage in key outreach activities and deliver lessons learned to other agricultural areas seeking to reduce pollution and incentivize environmental performance.

“This team will create, test and promote new ways to compensate farmers for the improvements they make to the region’s waters,” says David Rankin, Vice President and Director of Programs at the Great Lakes Protection Fund. “The team will succeed because it includes not only the lead organizations but also academic experts, agency staff, advisors from other areas, and—most importantly—the farmers themselves.”

GLPF promotes regional action to enhance the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem by investing in leaders and projects that put innovative ideas into action. Winrock International, the lead grantee, works with people in the United States and around the world to empower the disadvantaged, increase economic opportunity and sustain natural resources. Delta Institute works throughout the Great Lakes region to build environmental resilience, economic vitality and healthy communities via the creation and implementation of market-driven solutions. Sand County Foundation is dedicated to working with private landholders to improve natural habitats on their land.  |  |

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