Project aims to protect water quality in VermillionDevelopers building in the Farmington area should soon be able to get a much clearer picture of the impact their work will have on the health of the Vermillion River. If that impact too significant, they might have a chance to work with their neighbors to even things out.
By: Nathan Hansen, The Farmington Independent
Developers building in the Farmington area should soon be able to get a much clearer picture of the impact their work will have on the health of the Vermillion River. If that impact too significant, they might have a chance to work with their neighbors to even things out.
The Vermillion River Watershed Joint Powers Organization is in the middle of a three-year project that will create at least two tools and possibly three for protecting the river, which in many areas is home to healthy trout populations. The project is funded by a $675,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
When the work is done, likely by August of 2009, the watershed group will have a pair of computer models to use when considering development near the river. One will help determine how much it takes to increase the temperature of the river. The other will give developers an idea how big an impact their specific projects will have due to runoff or other causes.
That information is especially important near the Vermillion. Trout need cold water to live, and with water temperatures that hover around 68 degrees in the summer the Vermillion is dangerously close to the approximately 73-degree threshold at which the fish will begin to suffer.
“Most of the heat is coming from rain events, industrial roofs, bare soil,” said Katherine Carlson, water resources specialist for Dakota County. “(The rain) hits that hot ground and runs into the river and jacks up the heat.”
New development is a big culprit in increasing water temperatures. With green fields disappearing under new homes there is less area for rainwater to soak in. And temperatures above the 73-degree mark could mean more than just trouble for some fish. Carlson said if temperatures get to high it could trigger a number of environmental regulations.
“We’re not trying to do anything but hold the line on what we’ve already got,” Carlson said. “What we’ve already got is just under our regulatory limit of concern.... If we develop a lot more we won’t stay under it. That’s the problem we’re trying to solve.”
As useful as Carlson thinks those first two tools could be in protecting the river, it’s the third part of the project — the one that still might not amount to anything — that’s been getting the most attention. It involves allowing developers to buy credits in other projects to help offset any impact they have on the river.
So, if a developer did not have room on its property to build ponds or plant trees to handle runoff, it could pay to have trees planted elsewhere along the river. It would be up to a kind of water-quality-credit broker to make sure the the two projects balance each other.
The idea is not new. Use of air quality credits decades ago helped address the problem of acid rain and it has become popular in recent years for businesses to use carbon credits to offset the impact they have on the environment. But this would be the first time the concept has been applied to water quality.
“We’re going to try to do something a little unusual and other people will have to follow in our footsteps,” Carlson said.Carlson believes the idea has potential, but there are still some questions. When companies use carbon credits they have the entire world to work with. With the Vermillion, there is just a watershed. Carlson said it’s not clear yet whether there is enough land to work with.
Whatever happens with credit trading, though, Carlson believes the computer models that will come from this process will be valuable tools.
“We may be too small to make a market work, or the science and the heat transfer — all of that may make it too expensive. Or the areas we’ve looked at being the trading zones may be too small,” Carlson said. “We haven’t gotten to the point where we have all the answers yet but we do know we’ll have these models that will really help cities that are partners in these projects.”