Assessing the Contribution of Small Streams to Use and Non-use Water Quality Values Using Modeling, Stakeholder Participation, and Decision Theory

EPA Grant Number: R836169
Title: Assessing the Contribution of Small Streams to Use and Non-use Water Quality Values Using Modeling, Stakeholder Participation, and Decision Theory
Investigators: Borsuk, Mark E. , Howarth, Richard B. , Rogers, Shannon H. , Chen, Celia Y , Zuidema, Shan
Institution: Dartmouth College , University of New Hampshire - Main Campus , Plymouth State University
Current Institution: Dartmouth College , Plymouth State University , University of New Hampshire - Main Campus
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: April 1, 2016 through March 31, 2021
Project Amount: $798,337
RFA: Water Quality Benefits (2015) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Water


The overarching goal of the proposed project is to develop a transferable framework for linking the health of small streams to water quality indicators, ecosystem services, and human preferences. To accomplish this, we will pursue the following objectives:

  1. Relate the outputs of a spatially-distributed biogeochemical river network model to water quality attributes, including ecosystem services, that people recognize and fundamentally value.
  2. Structure and elicit the multiattribute value judgments of upstream and downstream water resource users and non-users in a way that accounts for the many contributors to value and the complex tradeoffs among them.
  3. Translate multiattribute value judgments into transferable estimates of willingness-to-pay and willingness-to-accept-compensation for changes in water quality.


Project objectives will be pursued by a highly interdisciplinary team using a combination of environmental modeling, nonmarket valuation, decision science, and stakeholder participation. A particular focus of our project will be on the valuation of small streams – a timely and policy-relevant problem setting given the recent guidance by the US EPA and US ACE. Our innovation stems from use of a multiattribute framework for assessing use and non-use values that builds on our past research and is readily transferable. Further, as many of the benefits of protecting small streams are only realized downstream, our project is ideal for investigating valuation issues related to spatial scale. To accomplish Objective 1, we will utilize an existing river network model that lends itself to the representation of hydrologic and biogeochemical processes over a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. The output of this model will then be linked to a Bayesian network that allows the underlying science and water quality impacts to be depicted in ways that people can vividly understand and use to reach grounded value judgments. Objective 2 will be achieved through a deliberative multicriteria evaluation process, implemented as a series of workshops in which stakeholders deliberate over the relative value of different levels of ecosystem service provision and tradeoffs among competing services. This approach is particularly amenable to the assessment of multiple non-use values and the consideration of step versus incremental changes. Finally, Objective 3 will involve the design and implementation of a stated preference survey to validate the results of our small-group workshops and support benefits transfer. Our project objectives will be pursued in the specific context of four coastal watersheds in New Hampshire, although we plan for methods and results to be readily transferable to other settings.

Expected Results:

Planned outputs of this project include: an integrative model linking health of small streams to ecosystem services; a novel participatory approach for the characterization of both use and non-use values; and a transferable survey tool for estimating the value of water quality protection. Project outcomes include: improved quantification of the benefits of streams with regard to a variety of endpoints; a better understanding of the impact of spatial scale on the assessment of water quality benefits; and guidance on the use of indicators for linking science and valuation in the presence of both step and incremental changes.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 2 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 2 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

benefit-cost analysis, economic valuation, water quality criteria

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2016 Progress Report
  • 2017 Progress Report
  • 2018 Progress Report
  • 2019 Progress Report