After a competitive selection process, NEIWPCC has contracted leading experts in environmental economics, from IFC Incorporated L.L.C., to conduct an analysis of the economic benefits of having clean water in the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary. This study, estimated to be completed in 2023, will be the first of its kind in the region and could serve as a stepping stone for further work by governmental, non-governmental, and academic researchers.
The New York – New Jersey Harbor Estuary is home to the Statue of Liberty and to one of the world’s most iconic skylines.
In recent years the New York – New Jersey Harbor & Estuary Program (HEP) and other area partners have focused on helping more local people access and enjoy the harbor, by connecting the people from the densely urban surrounding areas to this important natural resource.
“We know that people and wildlife benefit from investments in cleaner water,” said HEP Director Robert Pirani. “The work by NEIWPCC and the ICF team will help stakeholders and decision-makers better document and communicate the true economic value of those benefits. HEP and our partners intend to use this information to shape management decisions going forward.”
Principle Investigator Elena Besedin, Ph.D., has more than 24 years of experience directing large, complex economic analyses for the federal government, with a specific focus on environmental policies and programs affecting aquatic resources. Her work on market/nonmarket valuation, benefit transfer, and environmental economics has contributed to cost-benefit analyses and resource management decisions by EPA, other federal and state government agencies, and nonprofit organizations.
Senior Technical Advisor Robert Johnston, Ph.D., is an environmental economist internationally recognized for his work in stated preference valuation, benefit transfer, and meta-analysis, with an emphasis on aquatic and coastal ecosystems. He specializes in methods to quantify the economic benefits provided by environmental improvements and ecological systems, and advises federal, international and intergovernmental agencies on the development and use of these methods.
Besedin and Johnston are long-time collaborators who have co-authored many foundational academic papers related to benefit function transfers, which is the type of economic analysis to be used in this study.
Benefit function transfers gather existing estimates of economic value from similar settings like estuaries, urbanized harbors, or waterways in similar regions. They use a mathematical function to create an economic estimate of the value of water quality improvements specific to the location of interest.
“A healthy, ecologically functional watershed brings uncountable benefits to the communities that live nearby, but since it’s not something you can buy and sell on the market, it is challenging to assign it a dollar value,” said Emma Gildesgame, NEIWPCC environmental analyst who is managing NEIWPCC’s contract with the ICF team.
“It is possible and useful to understand these benefits in economic terms, Gildesgame added. “An environmental economic analysis can make the case for improving water quality, prioritizing investment, and bringing benefits of healthy watersheds to underserved communities. We’re excited to have such experienced, well-respected experts in this field to be heading the project.”
This project will be funded by the EPA and managed by NEIWPCC with support from an interdisciplinary, multi-agency advisory team.