Turns out we don't know. But the federal government thinks we should. Now, Steve Polasky, a University of Minnesota expert on economics and the environment is heading a new scientific advisory panel for the Environmental Protection Agency charged with establishing the economic value of clean water.
Star Tribune photo
That kind of calculus was instrumental in helping the EPA make the case for the recent clean air regulations. It figured out the economic benefit of better health outcomes and the reduction in asthma, lung cancer and heart disease. But it's a much tougher job to do that with water. According to an article published by Greenwire (subscription required), figuring the value of water to a farmer who uses it for irrigation is relatively easy. . But figuring the cost of a contaminated beach or lake and lost opportunities for recreation is more difficult.
The EPA's said it wants to know how clean water affects economic development, how it influences different parts of the economy like tourism, farming and food production, fishing, housing and energy. It will combine that with other "nonmarket values" like recreation in a way that will help state and local communities make decisions that affect water quality and clean-up.
But Greenwire reports that industry groups are already balking. They fear the information is intended to justify the construction of expensive water treatment facilities.