Events & Media

Arturo Keller: Seeking Solutions to Nutrient Loading of RiversArturo Keller


A pollution-trading credit program designed by a research group led by the Bren School professor could become the largest program of its kind in the world.

The Mississippi River and its tributaries are loaded with nutrients, largely the result of agriculture runoff from farms in three Midwestern states: Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa plus greater Chicago metropolitan area. When they reach the Gulf of Mexico, the excess nuitrients – nitrogen and phosphorus, in particular, which are components of synthetic fertilizers – cause algae blooms that suck the oxygen out of the water, causing fish to leave the area and less mobile life forms to die. The ever-expanding dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico now covers some 6,700 square miles, threatening fisheries and, thus, local economies that depend on them.

An article in the June 23 issue of The Economist describes the nutrient pollution, as well as the legal actions that have been brought by environmental groups to curtail it and counter-suits against them.

As the litigation plays out, several possible methods for mitigating the nutrient loading are under consideration. Among them is a trading system for nutrients.

In association with a Bren School research group headed by Professor Arturo Keller, the Electric Power Research Institute, an industry think-tank, is creating a program that would allow the trading of nutrient credits among states. The program, currently undergoing a test run in the Ohio River basin, “allows those facing high pollution-control costs to buy reduction credits from those whose costs are lower,” the article says.

“If that project takes off,” the Economist article says, it could become the world’s largest water-quality trading program, spanning as many as eight states and allowing trading among 46 power plants, thousands of wastewater facilities and about 230,000 farmers."