Estimation of Spatially Explicit Water Quality Benefits throughout River Systems: Development of Next Generation Stated Preference Methods Using National Probability Samples and Online Labor Pools

EPA Grant Number: R836167
Title: Estimation of Spatially Explicit Water Quality Benefits throughout River Systems: Development of Next Generation Stated Preference Methods Using National Probability Samples and Online Labor Pools
Investigators: Johnston, Robert J , Moeltner, Klaus , Wollheim, Wil
Institution: Clark University , University of New Hampshire - Main Campus , Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: April 1, 2016 through March 31, 2019 (Extended to March 31, 2021)
Project Amount: $799,919
RFA: Water Quality Benefits (2015) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Water


This project will develop and evaluate a novel approach to stated preference (SP) valuation, Free-form Choice Experiments (FCEs). FCEs restructure the way that willingness to pay (WTP) is elicited and estimated, hybridizing methods from contingent valuation, choice experiments (CEs), revealed preference modeling, online labor pool survey sampling, and Bayesian econometrics. The approach is developed to estimate use/nonuse WTP for water quality and ecosystem service (ES) improvements throughout and across river networks. FCEs are designed to be transformative across multiple dimensions, including: (a) novel ways to elicit stated preferences and design SP surveys, with scenarios coupled to ecological models, (b) flexible value elicitation and modeling that generates benefit functions linked to numerous temporally/spatially explicit effects, (c) elimination of the need to restrict scenarios to a few attributes, (d) an ability to evaluate the relevance of many ecological indicators to different user/nonuser groups, (e) novel modeling of SP data using Bayesian econometrics, and (f) new approaches to SP sampling using online labor pools. Methods will be developed and tested using a case study of water quality benefit estimation in the northeast US. Biogeochemical forecasts for FCE scenarios will be projected using FrAMES (Framework for Aquatic Modeling of the Earth System), a process-based spatially explicit modeling system. Hypothesis tests will apply FCE results to estimate welfare effects associated with variations such as: (a) effects on small streams vs. higher order rivers, (b) effects on water quality vs. related ES, (c) population characteristics and resource uses, (d) spatial/temporal differences, (e) the use of alternative indicators.


Project tasks will: (1) develop FCE methods and valuation scenarios, (2) forecast water quality and ES changes for these scenarios using FrAMES, (3) develop/pretest scenarios and surveys, and (4) evaluate and finalize survey design. FCEs are more flexible than CEs and require larger samples. Task (5) will hence develop new methods for SP implementation: (a) using an online labor pool as a means to obtain large, cost-effective, diverse nationwide samples, and (b) using a traditional mixed mode probability sample for comparison. Pilot tests will be conducted prior to finalizing all methods. Final tasks will: (6) implement all survey versions, (7) estimate preference models using innovative methods for Bayesian model search, (8) compare and calibrate probability sample and online labor pool results, (9) evaluate FCE performance and test hypotheses related to the value of water quality change, and (10) illustrate applications to policy analysis.

Expected Results:

This project will develop a novel, modular approach to SP valuation designed to address the challenges of use/nonuse WTP estimation for complex, temporally/spatially explicit aquatic ecosystem change with heterogeneous benefits for different user/nonuser groups. These methods will provide a means to estimate benefit functions applicable to a variety of surface waters (including small streams), quality parameters, and policy outcomes. The result will be the first new SP approach in over two decades, grounded in a hybridization of proven techniques. Direct coupling of these methods to ecological models will facilitate acceptance of SP approaches by non-economists. Individual advances pioneered by the project will further expand the set of tools available to quantify use/nonuse benefits of aquatic ecological change.

Supplemental Keywords:

watersheds, ecology, hydrology, non-market valuation, policy, preferences, willingness-to-pay

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2016 Progress Report
  • 2017 Progress Report