Freshwater Trust builds market for water quality
By Christina Williams
Sustainable Business Oregon editor
Joe Whitworth, president of The Freshwater Trust, cares about fixing rivers. His organization has created a market to help complete that task.
It wasn't President Barack Obama's finest moment.
When he mentioned a groundbreaking ecosystem services program happening in southern Oregon, the president — or more accurately his speechwriter — flubbed some of the details about the project and the science of salmon spawning.
But as soon as Obama mentioned the Rogue River Valley during the March conservation speech, Joe Whitworth, president of the Portland-based Freshwater Trust, was doing a quiet fist-pump in the audience.
Even if the story wasn't exactly straight, the president's mention of Freshwater Trust's new water quality trading program was a fitting tribute for something that took years to put together and holds huge potential for both Oregon's rivers and its economy.
Rather than presenting business and the environment as polar opposites, the idea of water quality trading provides a classic win-win: a regulatory compliance option that costs less and is better for the environment.
"This allows the economy and the environment to ultimately do business together," Whitworth said.
It may also lead the environmental nonprofit to spin off a for-profit company — an option that Freshwater Trust is exploring — that would take water quality trading national.
Water quality trading is one of those ecosystem services — such as carbon storage and habitat restoration — that sustainable business advocates like to talk about, but few have figured out how to make it work financially.
Freshwater Trust is piloting its system in southern Oregon, having landed an $8 million contract with the city of Medford to see that it meets Oregon Department of Environmental Quality requirements of keeping the Rogue River running cool.
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