Nav: Home

Economic analysis provides watershed moment for environmental groups

October 12, 2018

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Economists have found that in the United States, watershed groups have had a positive impact on their local water quality.

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This is the first empirical evidence that nonprofit organizations can provide public goods, said Christian Langpap, an Oregon State University economist and study co-author with Laura Grant, an assistant professor of economics at Claremont McKenna College.

In economics, a public good is a commodity or service that individuals cannot be effectively excluded from using, and where use by one individual does not reduce availability to others. For these reasons, public goods can't be provided for profit and nonprofits can play an important role.

"Environmental nonprofit groups are assumed to provide public goods," said Langpap, an associate professor in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences. "But until now that assumption has never been tested empirically. We determined that the presence of water groups in a watershed resulted in improved water quality and higher proportions of swimmable and fishable water bodies."

The presence and activity of watershed groups can impact water quality in various ways, including oversight and monitoring, direct actions such as organizing volunteers for cleanups or restoration, and indirect actions like advocacy and education.

The researchers' analysis combined data on water quality and watershed groups for 2,150 watersheds in the continental United States from 1996 to 2008. The number of watershed groups across the lower 48 tripled during this period, from 500 to 1,500.

Grant and Langpap constructed a model that considered dissolved oxygen deficiency as the measurement of water quality. Dissolved oxygen deficiency is the most common and overarching measure of water quality because dissolved oxygen is critical for many forms of aquatic life that use oxygen in respiration, including fish, invertebrates, bacteria and plants. It was also the water quality measure that had the most data available during the study period.

The researchers used three measures of group activity in a watershed in a given year: total number of active groups, total donations to all groups in the watershed and total expenditures by groups in the watershed.

The model produced some significant results. For example, a nonprofit in a watershed was associated with reduced dissolved oxygen deficiency relative to a watershed in which there were no groups.

Additionally, a $100,000 increase in total donations to nonprofits in a watershed, equivalent to a 10 percent increase to the average, also was associated with reduced dissolved oxygen deficiency. And a $100,000 increase in nonprofit expenditures, a 7 percent increase, was also associated with improved water quality.

They controlled for additional factors that impact water quality at the watershed level: violations of the U.S. Clean Water Act, spending via federal water quality programs, land use, precipitation, election outcomes, population density, per capita income, educational attainment, ethnicity, home ownership and unemployment.

"This is a unique data set that allowed this question to be answered empirically," Langpap said. "We painstakingly gathered this list of watershed groups. Once we had their location, we could match them to their watershed. Using their tax records, we knew how much they received in donations and how much they spent."
-end-


Oregon State University

Related Water Quality Articles:

Study quantifies effect of 'legacy phosphorus' in reduced water quality
For decades, phosphorous has accumulated in Wisconsin soils. Though farmers have taken steps to reduce the quantity of the agricultural nutrient applied to and running off their fields, a new study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison reveals that a 'legacy' of abundant soil phosphorus in the Yahara watershed of Southern Wisconsin has a large, direct and long-lasting impact on water quality.
New standards for better water quality in Europe
The European Water Framework Directive (WFD) is due to be revised by 2019.
Investigating the impact of 'legacy sediments' on water quality
University of Delaware researcher Shreeram Inamdar has been awarded a $499,500 grant from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to determine if stream-bank legacy sediments are significant sources of nutrients to surface waters and how they may influence microbial processes and nutrient cycling in aquatic ecosystems.
Adaptive management of soil conservation is essential to improving water quality
The quality of our rivers and lakes could be placed under pressure from harmful levels of soluble phosphorus, despite well-intended measures to reduce soil erosion and better manage and conserve farmland for crop production, a new study shows.
Big data approach to water quality applied at shale drilling sites
A computer program is diving deep into water quality data from Pennsylvania, helping scientists detect potential environmental impacts of Marcellus Shale gas drilling.
More Water Quality News and Water Quality Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans
More than test scores or good grades — what do kids need to prepare them for the future? This hour, guest host Manoush Zomorodi and TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, in and out of the classroom. Guests include educators Olympia Della Flora and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#534 Bacteria are Coming for Your OJ
What makes breakfast, breakfast? Well, according to every movie and TV show we've ever seen, a big glass of orange juice is basically required. But our morning grapefruit might be in danger. Why? Citrus greening, a bacteria carried by a bug, has infected 90% of the citrus groves in Florida. It's coming for your OJ. We'll talk with University of Maryland plant virologist Anne Simon about ways to stop the citrus killer, and with science writer and journalist Maryn McKenna about why throwing antibiotics at the problem is probably not the solution. Related links: A Review of the Citrus Greening...