EPA Grant on Improving Water Quality

EPA Grant Awarded to Clark University for Water Quality Research

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on September 20, 2016, that it is funding research at six universities on the costs and benefits of improving water quality and protecting the environment. One of those six institutions is Clark University, in Worcester, MA. This Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program grant will allow Robert Johnston, director of Clark University’s George Perkins Marsh Institute, and leader of an interdisciplinary team of researchers at Clark, to develop new methods to quantify the value of water quality improvements. The team will focus on river systems in the Northeast United States.

According to Johnston, there are ways in which water quality affects us that cannot easily be quantified, such as supporting wildlife and outdoor recreation. He says, “…people often value water quality simply because they want to live in an area with high-quality rivers, streams and lakes, apart from any direct human use. These ‘non-use’ or ‘existence’ values are real, but can be difficult to measure.” His team will be developing survey-based approaches to quantify these difficult-to-measure non-use values.

Johnston’s research team at Clark University includes Stefano Crema, Chief Applications Research Officer at Clark Labs. Crema will be developing visual aids to convey the effects of various improvement schemes on overall ecosystem conditions. These visual aids – GIS layers, graphical and numerical format – will inform stakeholders and decision makers on a region’s ecosystem. Survey respondents will be able to click and zoom on maps of their area to better understand the issues at play. They will be able to view higher resolution images, detailed information on specific indicators or temporal information. The aim is to help non-scientists understand policy consequences related to environmental quality and ecosystem services. These stated-preference, value-estimation survey methods will allow a well-informed public to vote for or against various possible future improvement projects.