Decision Support for Mitigating Water Pollution and Enhancing Other Ecosystem Services in Agricultural Landscapes

EPA Grant Number: FP917343
Title: Decision Support for Mitigating Water Pollution and Enhancing Other Ecosystem Services in Agricultural Landscapes
Investigators: Keeler, Bonnie L
Institution: University of Minnesota
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: September 1, 2011 through August 31, 2014
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2011) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Ecosystem Services: Aquatic Systems Ecology


Water quality is a valued ecosystem service impacted by land use change and other human activities. Decision-makers increasingly are interested in the valuation of water quality as an ecosystem service. However, biophysical monitoring and modeling efforts are not well integrated with economic valuation tools and there is little consensus on how to best value changes in water quality. Similarly, reactive nitrogen impacts human health and affects many other ecosystem services but no consistent valuation framework exists for nitrogen-related services or the damage costs associated with increased reactive nitrogen in the environment. This research will expand and improve on these two critical frontiers of ecosystem services research with particular application to assessing the water quality and nitrogen impacts of land use change associated with biofuels expansion in the Upper Midwest, United States.


This research assesses how land use changes affect the biophysical production of ecosystem services, how these biophysical changes impact humans and how these impacts on people can be valued using economic techniques. The proposed research is structured around the following two aims: (1) Refine and expand an existing spatially explicit ecosystem services model, Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Tradeoffs (InVEST), to address water quality and nitrogenrelated ecosystem services. Activities around this aim include biophysical model development and linking changes in biophysical outputs to economic valuation approaches; and (2) Apply the ecosystem services model and framework to the issue of biofuels expansion in the Upper Mississippi River Basin, United States. This work will include designing alternative land use scenarios to meet the Renewable Fuels Standard and assessing the ecological and economic consequences of different scenarios in terms of ecosystem services and returns to landowners.

Expected Results:

End products of this research will include improved models for estimating the effects of land use change and land management on water quality and nitrogen impacts on human health, recreation and other ecosystem services. An important component of this work will be exploring alternative options for the economic valuation of water quality services and the damage costs associated with reactive nitrogen pollution. Model development work will contribute to the improvement of the InVEST model and be applied to the problem of biofuels expansion in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. This research also will focus on linking the ecosystem services model InVEST with other more complex process-based water quality models and vegetation models. Results of this analysis will determine how alternative scenarios of bioenergy production may impact ecosystem services and identify locations on the landscape where conservation activities can maximize potential ecosystem service flows.

Potential to Further Environmental/ Human Health Protection

Ecosystem services are increasingly incorporated into decision-making; therefore, improvements in the ability to assess changes in services and estimate the value of those changes are highly beneficial. This research addresses two issues of importance to human health and the environment: water quality and reactive nitrogen pollution. Improved modeling of these services, assessment of the value associated with changes in water quality and nitrogen cycling, and application to biofuels expansion, a key driver of land use change, will greatly improve the ability to make informed decisions about future land use change and conservation.

Supplemental Keywords:

water quality, nitrogen, ecosystem services, land use change, biofuels, renewable fuels standard, InVEST, valuation, agriculture

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2012
  • 2013
  • Final