New Research Studying Economics of Water quality on Lake Recreation Focuses on Rural, Lower-income Iowans

Wendong Zhang, 515-294-2536;
Rick Cruse, Iowa Water Center, 515-294-7850;
Matt Helmers, Iowa Nutrient Research Center, 515-294-6717;
Ann Y. Robinson, Iowa Nutrient Research Center, 515-294-3066;

September 30, 2021

AMES, Iowa — A new study underway by economists at Iowa State University aims to better understand nutrient impacts through the lens of local recreation and tourism, with a focus on assessing the economic impacts of water quality improvement on rural and lower-income communities.

The project is jointly funded by the Iowa Water Center and the Iowa Nutrient Research Center at Iowa State University through a special grant program designed to encourage research on the social dimensions of Iowa water quality.

The project, “Environmental Justice for All: Nutrient Impacts on Lake-Based Recreation and Tourism by Rural and Socially Disadvantaged Iowans,” is being led by Wendong Zhang, associate professor of economics at Iowa State, with co-investigators Yongjie Ji, research scientist with the Center for Agricultural Research and Development (CARD); David Swenson and Liesl Eathington, research scientists, economics; and Xibo Wan and Wenran Fan, doctoral students, economics.

Their main objectives will be to build on historical Iowa Lakes Survey data by examining how water quality influences participation and perceptions related to lake recreation activities.

The IWC-INRC funding will support a new survey of 2,000 Iowans to be conducted early next year as a supplement to the 2019 Iowa Lakes Survey, part of the Iowa Lakes Valuation Project. The data will reflect additional input from rural and low-income households, groups that have been underrepresented in previous surveys. The economists will also analyze the economic impacts of recreation and tourism activities on local economies and use that information to project how different water quality scenarios could influence interest and participation in lake-based recreation.

“The project will contribute to the growing literature on the economics of environmental justice,” said Zhang. “We hope the findings will also be useful to help inform policymakers on approaches that are more inclusive and fair and can improve Iowa’s water quality for all the state’s residents.”

IWC and INRC are continuing the special grant program with a new request for proposals released for projects that will begin in 2022. The research must be led by faculty from Iowa State University, the University of Iowa or the University of Northern Iowa. Other partners can include local communities, utilities, agencies, businesses and landowners. $60,000 is available to support one or multiple projects. Applicants must submit a proposal intention by Nov. 1. Get more details.

“By fostering greater understanding of downstream impacts and social well-being in relation to nutrient issues, IWC and INRC are seeking to address the well-being of all members of society within the larger agroecosystem of the Mississippi River Basin,” said IWC director Rick Cruse.