ISU Economists’ Research on Water Quality Receives Prestigious AAEA Award

The prestigious Bruce Gardner Memorial Prize for Applied Policy Analysis will be awarded to three Iowa State Department of Economics faculty for their work on water quality preservation and restoration at the upcoming Agriculture & Applied Economics Association (AAEA) annual meeting.

Department of Economics faculty Joe Herriges, Cathy Kling, and Dan Otto, are joined by Kevin Egan (former ISU economics grad student now at University of Toledo), and John Downing (ISU department of EEOB) for their collective work on "Assessing the Value of Water Quality Preservation and Restoration: The Iowa Lakes and Rivers Projects."

“I was delighted that our research was chosen to receive the Bruce Gardner Policy Award. Professor Gardner was a true inspiration—he continuously demonstrated that excellence in economic research could effectively improve policy analysis, making a real difference in both policy outcomes and human lives,” Kling said.

Their research was in response to the diminishing water quality of Iowa's lakes and rivers, and assessed the economic value of those waterways in terms of their attraction as a source of recreation. The study surveyed Iowans’ perceived value for and recreational use of 132 of Iowa's lakes and 73 of the state’s river segments.

“This was an exciting foray into the interface between research and policy,” Kling said of the multi-year research project. “We leveraged resources from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to collect a unique, multi-year data set on how Iowa households use these environmental resources.”

The results showed a sizable economic impact on Iowa's communities, drawing more than 6,350 jobs, $824 million in sales, and $130 million in personal income from the use of rivers alone. The Lakes Valuation project, which stretches as far back as 2002, found that 12 of the 132 lakes generate spending of over $40 million annually. Overall, Iowans spent just over $9 million on direct spending on average per lake.

Lake visitation increased 33 percent from 2002–2009, the years in which lake usage surveys were sent out. Of the four lakes with the largest increase in usage, three had undergone major restoration efforts. “The findings indicate that Iowans value improved water quality, and (the study) provides a means for economically ranking water quality improvement projects at the state level,” Kling said.

Results from the lakes and rivers surveys can be viewed at the following:

The AAEA, formerly the American Agricultural Economics Association, is the main professional association serving the interests of members working in agricultural and broadly related fields of applied economics. Their annual meeting will be held August 12-14 in Seattle, Washington.

(Released August 2012)