CARD researchers to study water quality benefits with EPA grant

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Researchers at the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development have secured an $800,000 grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency that will allow them to study the benefits of water quality improvements.

“The EPA is interested in understanding how people value water quality improvements related to things other than direct use,” Catherine Kling, director of CARD, said. “We know that people value water quality improvements when it increases fish stocks and catch rates of desirable recreational fishing, or provides cleaner, clearer water for swimming and boating. What is less clear is the value to people of having improved water quality even if they do not directly use the water,” Kling said.

The study will take about three years to complete, and ties into larger water quality issues that have become prevalent in Iowa in the last few years. “The reason for this study and the Des Moines water works lawsuit is that both are parts of the larger issue of water pollution stemming from nutrient enrichment (largely from agricultural land use in Iowa),” Kling said. “The Des Moines Water Works lawsuit is concerned with who pays to clean up the water to assure that our drinking water meets minimum standards. Our work looks at the benefits of those water improvements that extend beyond the drinking component: the value from living near cleaner rivers and streams.”

While the study won’t have any direct impact on water quality, it will help to improve future projects and proposals that will impact water quality. “Our work should help inform these efforts and hopefully guide future policy toward the appropriate balance between water quality improvement, productive agricultural landscapes, and other human uses of the landscape.” Kling said.

“Clean water is a cornerstone of a healthy community. Many communities face challenging decisions about investing in the protection of water resources,” said Thomas Burke, EPA science advisory and deputy assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “These grants will help measure the costs and benefits of improving water quality, an important step toward protecting the environment and human health.”

The study also includes David Keiser at CARD, Jacques Finlay of the University of Minnesota, Daniel Phaneuf at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Christian Vossler at the University of Tennessee, and Jinhua Zhao at Michigan State University.

(Released September 2016)