This article, from law firm Jenner & Block, is authored by E. Lynn Grayson.
Editor’s note: Fresh water is getting increased attention as more people realize that conventional power plants – coal, natural gas, and nuclear – consume great quantities to cool their generating equipment. The warmer water that is returned to streams and lakes has a lower oxygen level that is detrimental to aquatic life.
EPA has released a new report The Importance of Water to the U.S. Economy addressing the total economic value of water resources. According to the report, the economic value of water will rise, and decision-makers in both the private and the public sectors will need information that can help them maximize the benefits derived from its use. This report is an initial step toward (1) raising awareness of water’s importance to our national economic welfare, and (2) assembling information that is critical to sustainably managing the nation’s water resources. It highlights the EPA’s review of the literature and practice on the importance of water to the U.S. economy, identifies key data gaps, and describes the implications of the study’s findings for future research.
The report addresses three key areas:
- How is Water Important to the U.S. Economy?
- What Do We Know About the Economic Value of Water?
- How Do We Better Inform Our Water-Related Decisions?
In its overview, EPA concludes the following on the economic value of water.
Decisions made in major sectors of the economy have a significant impact on the economic value derived from the nation’s water resources. This is particularly true for energy production, water supply, and food production, which together account for over 94 percent of water withdrawals from groundwater, streams, rivers, and lakes in the United States. Interactions among these sectors have given rise to an “energy-water-food nexus,” in which demands for water, energy resources, and agricultural products are interrelated. As a result, the use of water in these sectors cannot be viewed in isolation; changes in one sector can have a direct and significant impact on the demand for, and availability of, water to others.
The breadth and diversity of these issues makes clear that collecting or generating information of good quality and developing analytic tools to use this information effectively will require a collective effort. The U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water Census, which will provide improved data on water use throughout the economy and serve as a foundation for related efforts, is a key initiative in this area. Other potentially important lines of research include integrating water into economic models, which would support evaluation of the links between water use and economic output; the use of embedded resource accounting or water foot-printing techniques to estimate the virtual water content of different products; and facilitation of regional, multi-sector planning efforts to evaluate the implications of potential water supply shocks.
Jenner & Block
Filed Under: News, Policy