Friday, August 4, 2017

Water Quality's Impact on the Red Cedar Watershed Economy

Environmental sustainability has gotten a lot of attention in the last few years, and with it, has come even more controversy. Many will claim that protecting the environment hurts businesses and cuts jobs by making it more complicated to grow due to more regulations. However, my research (accompanied by Madison Biggs and Chris Ferguson) has proved otherwise. 

The Red Cedar Water Quality Partnership came up with a 10-year Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) strategy to reduce the amount of phosphorus emitted into Lakes Tainter and Menomin. The high concentrations of phosphorus are the primary factor responsible for the toxic blue-green algae blooms stinking up Menomonie and keeping people from entering the water. 

Surveys from tourists in the Chetek area, Stout students, and data from previous LAKES REU studies and the Wisconsin Department of Tourism were used to form spending patterns in Dunn and Barron Counties. These estimates were then placed into IMPLAN, an input-output software, to show which industries, and by how much, they would be affected if there were to be changes in tourism or student population.

The results showed that if tourism were to decrease or increase by 10% depending on whether the water quality worsened or improved, the economy would have significantly different outcomes in total output and employment. Adding up the direct, indirect, and induced effects, Barron County would bring in an extra $3.3 million, while Dunn County would bring in and extra $1.3 million per summer in the same scenario. The counties would see an increase in jobs provided by about 20 and 50 jobs per summer for Dunn and Barron County, respectively.

The more startling discovery was the fact that a decrease in water quality, and therefore a decrease in tourism, would have considerably negative effects on the economies. For instance, a 10% decrease in tourism for Barron County would result in $3.5 million lost in total output along with the elimination of over 70 jobs. Dunn County, although less drastic is still concerning, with a loss of $1.4 million in total output and over 30 jobs.

The big ticket for Dunn County’s economy, is the University of Wisconsin – Stout student population. With nearly half of the students surveyed claiming recreational opportunity as an important or essential factor when deciding to stay in Menomonie for the summer, just increasing the summer population to an additional 1500 students would put nearly an extra $2.6 million of total output into the economy. Not only that, but it would also provide about 40 more jobs. This also happens to be a conservative estimate, since nearly 50% of students surveyed said they would much more likely or definitely stay in the summer if there was more recreational opportunity in Menomonie and better water quality.

Another interesting find was the amount – and diversity of industries affected by water quality. Most people don’t consider businesses beyond the direct effect – the initial purchase for services. However, businesses are also impacted through the indirect effect – business to business transactions, and the induced effect – employee’s money spent from added income from increase in business. When the direct, indirect, and induced effects are measured, the largest total output growth among industries were real estate, restaurants, clothing retail, employment for government/education, and drinking places such as bars in Dunn and Barron County.

Based off of these findings, it is important to not only invest in improving our water quality in order to keep the economy moving forward, but to prevent the economy from moving backward and worsening the quality of life for many community members. The best solution would be to improve the water quality so future generations can enjoy the water activities and thrive on the booming economy.

This REU experience has definitely changed my life for the better. I gained so much experience in conducting experience, and it made me realize this is something I would like to do for the rest of my life. Not only is conducting research fun and exciting, but it gives me the opportunity to better the lives of so many people. I am so thankful for this opportunity to work with the incredible mentors and students, especially my mentor, Chris Ferguson, and partner, Madison Biggs. They have given me the confidence to believe I can succeed in research, in grad school, in work, and in life. Working with professors and students with various backgrounds was so inspiring, and it was fascinating to learn about the different lifestyles from around the country and share their passion for knowledge and research! This experience has given me lifelong skills and friendships that I couldn't have gotten anywhere else!

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