Water Quality Trading with Lumpy Investments, Credit Stacking, and Ancillary Benefits

Adam H. Lentz, Amy W. Ando, Nicholas Brozović

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper studies the economics of a water quality trading market in a predominantly agricultural watershed, and explores the effects of credit stacking in such a market when buyers and sellers of pollution credits can only reduce pollution with large, discrete investments that yield discontinuous supply and demand. The research simulates hypothetical water quality trading markets in the corn-belt area of Illinois, where wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) can pay farmers to reduce nutrients by installing wetlands and farmers may or may not be allowed to earn payments for multiple services from one wetland. We find that wetlands are a more cost-effective way to mitigate nitrogen pollution than abatement by WWTPs. Stacking credits may improve social welfare while providing more ecosystem services if there is enough demand for the primary credit in the market (nitrogen) to cover most of the cost of installing the wetland but the supply of nitrogen credits is not exhausted. However, in the presence of lumpy pollution reduction activities, the effects of allowing stacked credit sales are idiosyncratic and not necessarily positive; stacked payments may or may not satisfy additionality. The results imply that credit trading for nitrogen is likely to make society better off, but the effects of allowing farmers to receive multiple payments from a single wetland depend on details of the situation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-100
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of the American Water Resources Association
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2014


  • Nonpoint source pollution
  • Nutrients
  • Stacking
  • Tradable permits
  • Water quality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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