Nutrient banking and credits help landowners in Virginia turn land into revenue.

As much as 80% of the poor water quality of the Chesapeake Bay is caused by nutrient pollution from fertilizers, pesticides, and wastes draining from agricultural lands near the headwaters feeding the rivers, and the Bay.

Chesapeake Bay Watershed Nutrient Credit Exchange Program

In an effort to reverse the deterioration of quality in the Bay, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) introduced the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Nutrient Credit Exchange Program, authorizing nutrient trading in Virginia. This progressive program would reward landowners who converted from traditional crops of corn, soybean, and pasture to trees and forest. Such landowners would qualify for nutrient credits that developers purchase to permit their projects in more urban areas.

The vast majority of states surrounding the Chesapeake Bay have assumed responsibility for their role in protecting the water quality feeding the Bay. In 2005, the DEQ expanded its program.

The program was not to replace cropping but to block and filter the run-off it creates.

For instance, stands of trees, strategically placed near tributaries, would use their significant root systems to create a blocking filter. Over time, the practice would control the overuse of phosphates, nitrates, and pesticides in fields. It would also dramatically reduce the sediment run-off caused by tilling the soil.


Conservation+ has been a significant part of the DEQ program since its inception and acts as a partner in the landowner’s project.

Our experience planting more than 42 million trees on 120,000 acres through GreenTrees (a division of ACRE Investment Management) makes us uniquely suited to deliver successfully growing trees. Conservation Plus, a sister company of ACRE Investment Management, works directly with Virginia landowners to implement the program from the initial estimate, plan design, DEQ application, sale of credits, and through the life of the forest as it matures.

Because not all land is valued the same, the DEQ program is designed to vary the reward depending on the use of the land in 2005, and the sensitivity of the specific region to the river system. Depending on whether the land was growing a crop in 2005 or pastured, would make a difference in the credits issued. Similarly, the basins feeding the Potomac, Shenandoah, Rappahannock, and James rivers are valued depending on their sensitivity to the Bay. A region within the basin is called a HUC (Hydrologic Unit Code.) A nutrient credit yield can be projected once the HUC is confirmed, the land use in 2005 is verified, and the landowner determines the total acres they will be dedicated to the program.

At this point, the DEQ asks that a sponsoring representative, familiar with their program submit an application on the landowner’s behalf. Like a conservation easement, the landowner agrees to the DEQ program will last in perpetuity to work best. The DEQ program protects the land and its natural assets, similar to the restrictive covenants of a conservation easement already recorded, or one that is being considered.