2017 Progress Report: Valuation of Water Quality Change in Environment and Economy Context: Ecosystem Services across Gradients of Degradation and Local Economic Interest

EPA Grant Number: R836320
Title: Valuation of Water Quality Change in Environment and Economy Context: Ecosystem Services across Gradients of Degradation and Local Economic Interest
Investigators: Swallow, Stephen , Helton, Ashley , Kirchhoff, Christine , Liu, Pengfei , Towe, Charles , Vadas, Timothy M.
Institution: University of Connecticut
EPA Project Officer: Hiscock, Michael
Project Period: August 1, 2016 through July 31, 2019
Project Period Covered by this Report: August 1, 2016 through July 31,2017
Project Amount: $799,994
RFA: Water Quality Benefits (2015) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Water


The proposed research aims to value changes in water quality via a preference function model designed explicitly for calibration and adaptation to alternative study-sites. The work will address critical deficiencies with broad applicability and application of traditional benefit transfer following three specific objectives. First, we will measure the relative value of water quality investments and stream ecosystem restoration in sites across the spectrum of degradation. Second, we will measure how the value of water quality and ecosystem restoration is affected by the context of where the streams are relative to current and past economic activity, especially jobs in pollution intensive industries versus other employment. Third, based on these primary studies we will use measures of personal environmental attitudes, measures of ecosystem/degradation context, and measures of local economic context to develop a framework guiding the applicability for transfer of benefits to alternative sites not directly studied.

Progress Summary:

Our project progress matches the timeline we outlined in the proposal. We have completed Phase 1: Site Selection and Sampling Phase within the first year of the project period. We have conducted a systematic, comprehensive literature review regarding water quality benefits to human being and the history and recent development in the benefit transfer. Currently, we are in the process of conducting more focus groups and making improvement on a draft survey that can be implemented in multiple counties to test benefit transfer approach in water quality valuation, though we are not ready to summarize our focus group findings and present a survey sample in this progress report. 
We have defined environmental and local-economy gradients in the study region and have constructed an algorithm to select counties for the survey according to the environmental and local-economy gradients at a county level. We worked with a two-dimensional space of water quality and socio-economic gradient. We built a 3 by 3 grid for total of nine different types of sites based on the environmental (including water quality and various ecosystem attributes) and economic gradient. To construct the economic gradient, we have collected data from multiple sources including information on: land value per acre, median home value, median rent, population density, percentage of college graduates, median household income, per capita income, private non-farm employment, private non-farm payroll, average employment rate, proportion of employment in ‘clean’ industries. We determined water quality gradient for counties in the northeast using over 70 different indicators for water quality. We collected information for concentration levels of over 70 inorganic substances (chemicals, nutrients, and metals) such as nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, nitrates, sulfates, chlorides, arsenic, mercury, and organics like benzene, etc. We also collected water quality information such as permits and impaired water bodies in the county including: storm-water permits per 1000 km of stream in a county, industrial permits per 1000 km of stream in a county, sewage permits per 1000 km of stream in a county, percentage of stream length impaired in a county, chemical usage in farming and agricultural run-offs, chemicals used for disease control, growth control, nematodes control, harvested acreage, irrigated acreage, percentage animal units, etc. The constructed indices will be used to choose study sites by randomly sampling one county within each cell in a 3 by 3 grid. 

Future Activities:

We will proceed according to the timeline outlined in the original proposal. We are in the process of conducting additional focus groups, drafting a pre-analysis plan for the hypotheses to be tested by our survey experiment. Based on the focus group feedbacks, we will continue developing the survey for future implementation. We will carry out data analysis as original planned after we finish the survey experiments. 

Supplemental Keywords:

ecosystem, regionalization, habitat, integrated assessment, public policy, decision making, community-based, conjoint analysis, observation, non-market valuation, contingent valuation, survey, preferences, public good, socioeconomic, willingness-to-pay, compensation, conservation, modeling, monitoring, analytical, surveys, measurement methods