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Assessing the Importance of Clean Water to US Residents


The upper Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee river basins. credit: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2023). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2120251119

New special edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) is focused on helping federal regulators measure the value US residents place on clean water, just months before the Supreme Court is set to decide a case with major implications for the Clean Water Act.

The case was proposed and co-edited by economist Katherine Kling, faculty director at the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability, along with two academic colleagues, at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and two EPA economists. The edition, posted May 2, should also highlight debates over the much-revised US Waters regulation, which took effect in March and has been the source of long-running political debate.

Kling, professor of environment, energy and resource economics at Tisch University’s Charles H. Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy. “We are trying to fully document the benefits against the costs and provide the best defensible trade-off numbers so that the EPA can put in place the most appropriate regulations.”

Chris Moore, an EPA economist and co-editor of the special issue, said the EPA can use the new research to improve its economic analyzes and appreciate more types of benefits from improving water quality.

“Assessing the social benefits of programs that improve water quality is particularly challenging because of the many ways people depend on clean water,” Moore said. “Knowing who will be affected by a given action and how to estimate the economic impacts presents a unique challenge when using water resources. The research featured in this special issue makes important advances on several fronts that address those challenges.”

50 years of the Clean Water Act

The Clean Water Act was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in 1972; Although it was vetoed by then-President Richard Nixon, Congress overrode its veto power to enact the law. In the 50 years since its implementation, the Clean Water Act has empowered regulators to require companies to stop dumping petroleum and toxic chemicals directly into the country’s waterways and to require local municipalities to treat wastewater before releasing it, among other provisions. Although water quality in the United States has improved significantly since 1972, challenges remain: nearly half of the rivers and streams are in “poor biological condition and 21% of the country’s lakes have very high levels of nutrients and algae.” , according to introduction In PNAS Special Edition.

In 1986, former President Ronald Reagan issued an executive order requiring federal regulators to conduct cost-benefit analyzes of nearly every rule. This has led regulators to make great efforts to assess the economic value of natural resources.

“It’s much easier to figure out the cost part: companies will have to regulate something or put pollution control in place. The hardest part to assess is the benefit,” Kling said. “But just because something isn’t bought or sold doesn’t mean people don’t value it. If we had to, many of us would pay money rather than clear a garden or degrade our water quality. That’s the concept of economic value.”

Advancement of public utility science

Even before Reagan’s executive order, scholars had been working to understand how the public valued non-commercial resources like clean air and water. A pioneering 1981 study used a national survey to ask residents how much they were willing to pay in taxes and higher rates to improve the country’s water quality to one of three criteria: boatable, swimable, and swimmable. The first national survey of its kind, the study found strong support for improving water quality, and the Environmental Protection Agency relied on the study for a variety of regulations, including regulations that limited the release of organic chemicals, plastics, and synthetic fibers into waterways.

Kling said the scientists who contributed water quality research to PNAS this month built on that foundation and on 50 years of research since then in economics, natural resources, ecology, sociology, survey methods and more. For example, survey research has consistently found that people assign intrinsic value to natural resources whether or not they engage in outdoor recreation; New Yorkers appreciate the state’s black bears even if they’ve never gone hunting, surveys have found time and time again.

In their study reported on PNASKling and her colleagues attempted to measure these intrinsic benefits of clean water in a survey of 2,000 households across the Midwest, in the upper Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee river basins. In addition to questioning residents about outdoor recreation, they measured how well respondents valued biodiversity by showing graphic representations of native species that could live in waters of different quality levels. They found that residents were willing to pay $456 per household per year in additional taxes or higher prices to subsidize clean water. Across the region, this means that residents value the benefits of clean water at $10.5 billion in excess of what is actually spent.

“By partnering with ecologists and economists, we can understand how water equity is more widely valued not only for swimming but also for habitat and natural resource conservation,” Kling said. “And by partnering with the EPA, we try to make sure that the information we produce answers the questions that regulators need to answer in order to make the best decisions possible about how we allocate our tax dollars.”

more information:
Christian A. Vossler et al. Estimating improvements in the ecological integrity of local and regional waters using a biological state gradient, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2023). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2120251119

private PNAS Release: www.pnas.org/toc/pnas/120/18

Provided by Cornell University

the quote: Measuring the Value U.S. Residents Place on Clean Water (2023, May 1), Retrieved May 1, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-05-residents.html

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