by Diane L. Mas, PhD, REHS/RS, Associate | Business Line Manager
All of the watershed groups that we’ve had the privilege to work with over the past 2 decades share several characteristics: they care deeply about the water quality of their local watershed, they look to engage the public in addressing and solving water quality problems, and they are nonprofit. Now research shows that another characteristic can be added to this list: they provide public goods. A public good is defined in economics as “a commodity or service that individuals cannot be effectively excluded from using, and where use by one individual does not reduce availability to others.” Inherently, public goods cannot be provided for profit, so nonprofit organizations, like watershed groups, can play an important role. Now, there is data analysis to demonstrate that the relationship exists – watershed groups improve water quality.
In their analysis combining data on water quality and watershed groups for 2,150 watersheds in the United States over the period 1996–2008, Grant and Langpap (2018) demonstrate that these groups had a positive and significant impact on water quality in the watersheds where they are located, as measured by average dissolved oxygen deficit and proportions of swimmable and fishable water bodies as metrics to gage water quality. And the data show that funding from Federal water quality programs also had a positive impact on water quality.
Because water quality impairments don’t happen overnight, water quality improvements usually don’t either, and as improvements do happen they are usually the result of multiple efforts and actions over many years guided by the vision of comprehensive planning – the watershed management approach. This lag time between positive actions and benefits can be challenging to communicate to a public that may expect immediate results. This national study can provide important messaging for local groups to reinforce the value of watershed management and gain support for ongoing watershed and water quality improvement projects. This study provides important empirical evidence of what we and our watershed partners have known all along, that the investment and persistence of watershed groups pays off in the form of improved water quality and the provision of public goods.
The paper by Grant and Langpap (2018) can be found here: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1805336115
About the Author:
Diane is an environmental engineer in the Water and Natural Resources Business Line at Fuss & O’Neill, Inc. and a founding member of the company’s environmental impact assessment practice. She has spent nearly 20 years working in the areas of water quality modeling, watershed management, and environmental impact assessment. Her current areas of water resources practice focus on climate change resiliency and adaptation for water resources; water quality assessment, modeling, and watershed management; harmful algal bloom impacts to drinking and recreational waters; and the relationship between water quality and public health. She also leads the preparation of state and federal environmental impact assessments, continuing to look for ways to streamline and focus analysis on key issues to assess and mitigate potential environmental effects.