Valuing Water Quality Improvements in Midwestern Ecosystems: Spatial Variability, Validity and Extent of the Market for Total Value

EPA Grant Number: R836166
Title: Valuing Water Quality Improvements in Midwestern Ecosystems: Spatial Variability, Validity and Extent of the Market for Total Value
Investigators: Kling, Catherine L. , Finlay, Jacques C , Keiser, David A , Phaneuf, Daniel J. , Vossler, Christian , Zhao, Jinhua
Institution: Iowa State University , Michigan State University , University of Minnesota , University of Tennessee - Knoxville , University of Wisconsin - Madison
EPA Project Officer: Hiscock, Michael
Project Period: April 1, 2016 through March 31, 2019
Project Amount: $800,000
RFA: Water Quality Benefits (2015) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Water


To achieve these objectives our team will develop an alternative framework to the traditional water quality ladder to translate changes in nutrient loadings in rivers and streams to changes in ecological services that can be readily understood by the public, use this new framework to underpin a large stated preference survey to elicit total values (including nonuse values) for water quality changes in the Midwest, use real payment experiments to assess the validity of estimated values, and use the values in an Integrated Assessment Model framework for policy analysis.


(a) Develop organizational and conceptual frameworks for integrating the project’s hydrological, ecological, and economic models at common spatial and temporal scales; (b) develop and quantify a spatially scalable ecological services production function linking ambient nutrient and sediment concentrations to ecological outputs; (c) investigate the mechanisms through which water quality enters household preferences and creates economic value, as mediated by the ecological services production function and the spatial distribution of quality outcomes; (d) field a large state-of-the-art, spatially scalable stated and revealed preference survey to estimate willingness to pay for changes in nutrient-sensitive aquatic ecosystem services; (e) conduct real payment field experiments to establish the validity of our stated preference estimates of willingness to pay, and (f) produce an Integrated Assessment Model to estimate the economic benefits of counterfactual policy scenarios, whereby changes in pollution loads at points in space are mapped to changes in ambient water quality across the landscape, and ultimately to changes in ecosystem services and human values. 

Expected Results:

The results of this project will provide fundamental insight into how the public understands and values the attainment of water quality criteria, how spatial scope and scale can be incorporated into water resource valuation in an ecosystem services framework, and how upstream and downstream benefits relate to one another. These insights will directly inform cost benefit analysis of state and federal programs as well as support efforts to improve their design.

Supplemental Keywords:

Nonmarket valuation, ecosystem services, stated preference, nonuse value

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2016 Progress Report
  • 2017