Study offers new way for policymakers to value water

13 Nov

H20: These three simple characters are equivalent to one of the most important elements on Earth: water. But, until now,measuring the actual economical and ecological value of water in a way that is effective to decision makers has been problematic and inconsistent.

The quality of water effects not only the water we drink, but also the water we use for recreational purposes and water that we fish from. As human pressures on our water sources escalate, actions must be taken to soften the blow on water quality and  human well-being.

Researchers at University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment have proposed a new framework for policymakers to use when deciding what ecosystem changes need to take place to ensure the highest quality of water.  The authors of the study explained that a new framework was needed because past models failed to link actions with changes in human well-being and therefore underestimated the value of water.

“After repeated requests for information on the value of water quality, we realized that there was a huge gap between the demand for economic values of water quality and our ability to provide tools to estimate those values. This gap limits our ability to make informed decisions,” Bonnie Keeler, lead researcher on the study  said in a press release. “We provide a framework that describes the numerous pathways in which changes in water quality affect our health, recreation and livelihoods and the economic value of those changes. This yields a far more accurate picture of the costs and benefits of decisions.”

The template of the model links actions, changes in water quality, changes in a spectrum of ecosystem goods and services, and changes in the economic value that accrues from the changes in ecosystem goods and services. The authors also included a 5-step implementation plan which includes: identifying the beneficiaries of interest, identifying shared inputs and outputs of biophysical and economic models, selecting the appropriate biophysical models, selecting the right economic models and lastly, considering existing models and data sources.

“There will never be a single number that describes the value of clean water in all places and contexts,” Keeler said. “What our paper proposes is a way for users to link tools from ecology and economics to get value estimates that are specific to their location and sets of alternative actions. Ideally these values can then factor into incentive programs, cost-benefit studies and payment programs for ecosystem services.”

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