When the City of Medford, Oregon was required to meet temperature limits for the clean, but warm, water entering the Rogue River from their waste-water treatment facility, they initially explored conventional engineered methods. They discovered these methods would be expensive, require long-term maintenance, increase energy usage, or just simply be ineffective.
Instead, the city turned to an alternative solution—water quality trading—to reach a cost-effective and sustainable approach to complying with Clean Water Act requirements.
By planting native trees along streams, over time, the city will see reduced water temperatures and protection of critical fish spawning habitat for cold-water species. Using robust metrics and methods, these watershed restoration benefits are quantified as water quality credits that are accepted by state regulators.
Ecological and Economic Need
The City of Medford was faced with the challenge that its wastewater facility’s discharge permit would receive stricter limits for water temperature. During certain times of the year, introducing warm water affects the stream ecology for native cold-water fish species. The community —as ratepayers— participates in the cost of compliance for the Medford facility and had an interest in finding the most affordable and ecologically beneficial solution in an economically challenged region.
The Freshwater Trust worked with the City of Medford to design and implement a project to meet water temperature compliance and address native species habitat. Local landowners were recruited to lease streamside property and local contractors were hired to remove invasive plant species, plant native trees and shrubs, and maintain 10-15 miles of streamside vegetation on the Rogue River and its tributaries.
The project saved the community nearly $10-million. Much of the money spent on maintenance is invested locally as nurseries, excavators, and other area practitioners are hired to implement and maintain the restoration projects.
Streamside plantings will reduce the solar load on the water over time. It will also provide wildlife habitat and protect critical spawning habitat for Chinook salmon and steelhead and help to improve water quality by reducing nutrient inputs and erosion.
This Project is Replicable
Water quality trading is approved by regulators and is gaining popularity with municipalities in part due to the established and documented guidelines for project development. With appropriate funding, similar projects can be developed. Due to the success of the temperature trading program, the City of Medford is considering an additional trading program to address phosphorus compliance.