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Estimating the Value of Public Water Data

Public water data, such as river flow from stream gauges or precipitation from weather satellites, produce broad benefits at a cost to the general public. This paper presents a review of the academic literature on the costs and benefits of government investments in public water data. On the basis of 21 studies quantifying the costs and benefits of public water quantity data, it appears that the median benefit-cost ratio across different economic sectors and geographic regions is 4:1. But a great deal of uncertainty attends this number; very few studies empirically quantify or monetize the costs, the benefits, or both of water information with sound economic methods, and no studies have quantified the value of water quality information. This review is part of an ongoing effort by the Nicholas Institute of Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University and the Aspen Institute to develop the foundations of an Internet of Water by quantifying the potential value of open and integrated public water data. 

Authors: John Gardner, Martin Doyle, and Lauren Patterson

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Water Policy

Working Papers

Internet of Water: Sharing and Integrating Water Data for Sustainability

This report from the Aspen Institute Dialogue Series on Water Data lays out a vision for a national policy framework that addresses institutional barriers to increasing the integration of water data and information to support sustainable water management. In the United States, data to manage water supplies and pursue innovative solutions to meet water management challenges are lacking or are not in a format that is easily accessible or understandable, and there are often strong disincentives, fears, and concerns about sharing the data. To address this challenge, the Aspen Institute Energy and Environment Program in partnership with the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and Redstone Strategy Group convened the Aspen Institute Dialogue Series on Water Data. The report highlights the dialogue’s principle-based blueprint recommending a three-step plan to design and launch an “Internet of Water”—a network of interconnected data producers, hubs, and users—that will enable real-time collection and transmission of water-related data and information—a prerequisite for revolutionizing how water resources are managed and situated to address prevalent water problems such as extreme flooding, scarcity, and contamination as well as for restoring aquatic systems. The report makes three key findings: (1) the value of open, shared, and integrated water data has not been widely quantified, documented, or communicated; (2) the most necessary step in using water data for sustainability is making public water data open by default, discoverable, and digitally accessible; and (3) water data could be most effectively integrated through an internet of water. The report recommends facilitation of open water data, integration of existing public water data and development of tools to connect data producers and users as well as regional-data-sharing communities that can address near-term water management problems for key sectors.

Authors: Lauren Patterson, Martin Doyle, Kathy King, and David Monsma

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Aspen-Nicholas Institute Water Forum

Water Policy

Reports

Unconventional Oil and Gas Spills: Risks, Mitigation Priorities and States Reporting Requirements

An analysis led by the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, which appears in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, concludes that making state spill data more uniform and accessible could provide stakeholders with important information on where to target efforts for locating and preventing future spills. However, reporting requirements differ across states, requiring considerable effort to make the data usable for analysis. 
 
By examining state-level spill data, it finds that 2 to 16 percent of hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells across Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota and Pennsylvania spill hydrocarbons, chemical-laden water, hydraulic fracturing fluids and other substances each year. The study characterizes spills associated with unconventional oil and gas development at 31,481 wells hydraulically fractured or "fracked" in the four states between 2005 and 2014, identifying 6,648 spills in the 10-year period. Across all states, the first three years of a well's life, when drilling and hydraulic fracturing occurred and production volumes were highest, had the greatest risk of a spill. It found a significant portion of spills (from 26 percent in Colorado to 53 percent in North Dakota) occur at wells that experienced more than one spill, which suggests that wells where spills have already occurred merit closer attention.
 
Authors: Lauren A. Patterson, Katherine E. Konschnik, Hannah Wiseman, Joseph Fargione, Kelly O. Maloney, Joseph Kiesecker, Jean-Philippe Nicot, Sharon Baruch-Mordo, Sally Entrekin, Anne Trainor, and James E. Saiers

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Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Use

Climate and Energy

Water Policy

State Policy

Journal Articles

Sharing Groundwater: A Robust Framework and Implementation Roadmap for Sustainable Groundwater Management in California

This working paper offers a framework and roadmap for development of a robust groundwater-sharing system consistent with California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which requires communities in priority areas to prepare groundwater sustainability plans. The proposed system draws on global experience. Robustness is its signature feature. Opportunities are maximized by a suite of robust local governance, allocation, and administrative arrangements. Additionally, the proposed system incentivizes innovation, stimulates investment, and facilitates low-cost adjustment to changes in groundwater demand. Among the dynamic components underlying this sharing system are a share register that records ownership and transfers of ownership in the basin’s available shares. These unit shares are fungible; each represents a proportional stake in access to the basin’s groundwater resources. Volumetric allocations are made in proportion to the number of shares held during determined periods throughout the water year.  These allocations are recorded in bank-like water accounts, affording account holders an efficient means to manage their resource but also ensuring that they cannot use more than is available. Unused water can be saved for later use. At the start of the transition to the new system, users are given an allocation buffer so that they have flexibility and time to adjust. Those who want to can make quick non-contestable trades at low cost.

Authors: Mike Young and Bryce McAteer

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Environmental Markets

Western

Water Policy

Environmental Economics

State Policy

Working Papers

Evaluating Flow Metric-Based Stream Classification Systems to Support the Determination of Ecological Flows in North Carolina

Streamflow is a main determinant of the ecological health of rivers and streams. Assignment of streams to classes is suggested as an initial step in the process of establishing ecological flow standards that ensure the appropriate environmental objectives are achieved. A new article in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association evaluated a hydrological model with two distinct hydroecological river classification systems of stream classes in North Carolina and found that stream classification was inconsistent between all three models and highly dependent on the period of record of the underlying data. Based on these results, it was surmised that classification systems based on streamflow metrics are not a reliable approach for guiding ecological flow determinations.

Authors: Michele C. Eddy, Jennifer Phelan, Lauren Patterson, Jessie Allen and Sam Pearsal

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Water Policy

State Policy

Journal Articles

Fish and Invertebrate Flow-Biology Relationships to Support the Determination of Ecological Flows for North Carolina

Following recent droughts in North Carolina, the General Assembly convened an Ecological Flows Science Advisory Board to develop a strategy for establishing flow regimes that could protect the ecological integrity in the streams and rivers of North Carolina. A new article in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association describes the method developed to characterize fish and invertebrate responses to flow alterations in the state of North Carolina to aid in setting ecologically sensitive flows that achieve appropriate environmental objectives.

Authors: Jennifer Phelan, Tom Cuffney, Lauren Patterson, Michele Eddy, Robert Dykes, Sam Pearsall, Chris Goudreau, Jim Mead and Fred Tarver

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Water Policy

State Policy

Journal Articles

Flow-Biology Relationships Based on Fish Habitat Guilds in North Carolina

The health of freshwater animal and plant life is dependent on streamflow, yet identification of the flow regimes required to maintain ecological integrity remains challenging to states in the U.S. seeking to establish ecological flows that achieve environmental objectives. A new article in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association tests the relationship between decreases in streamflow and Shannon-Weaver diversity index of fish species for four flow-based habitat guilds: riffle, riffle-run, pool-run, and pool in North Carolina. The study finds that species who prefer shallow habitats, such as riffles and riffle-runs were the most sensitive to decreases in streamflow, while using all fish data greatly underestimated the response of fish species to decreases in flow. Since ecological flows are designed to protect the integrity and diversity of aquatic ecosystems, ecological flows should be established to protect those species most sensitive to changes in flow.

Authors: Lauren Patterson, Jennifer Phelan, Chris Goudreau and Robert Dykes

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Water Policy

State Policy

Journal Articles

Unconventional Oil and Gas Spills: Materials, Volumes, and Risks to Surface Waters in Four States of the U.S.

A new article in the journal Science of the Total Environment examines spill data associated with unconventional oil and gas wells from Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania from 2005 to 2014. The authors used the data to evaluate the environmental risk of spills. They found that there were 21,300 unconventional wells and 6,622 reported spills. Across all states, the average distance of spills to a stream was highest in New Mexico, followed by Colorado, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania spills occurred in watersheds with a higher relative importance to drinking water than the other three states.

Authors: Kelly O. Maloney, Sharon Baruch-Mordo, Lauren A. Patterson, Jean-Philippe Nicot, Sally A. Entrekin, Joseph E. Fargione, Joseph M. Kiesecker, Kate E. Konschnik, Joseph N. Ryan, Anne M. Trainor, James E. Saiers, and Hannah J. Wiseman

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Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Use

Water Policy

State Policy

Journal Articles

Conservation Finance and Impact Investing for U.S. Water

The 2016 Aspen-Nicholas Water Forum focused on the shifting role of public and private financing for water infrastructure and the new universe of innovative financing solutions to create impacts in the water sector, including how impact investing can hold the multiple roles of bridging the ever growing funding gap for infrastructure, improve water use efficiencies, and protect water resources while at the same time making a financial profit. Among the forum report's key findings: 1) Business as usual is not sustainable—we as a society are now paying for the “can-kicking” that has occurred while we debated responsibility for U.S. water resources; 2) The water issues we face as a nation continue to grow as the water community dithers and invests in one-off projects, rather than focusing on scaled solutions like regionalization and integration; 3) Money is not the issue; there is plenty of private capital available to meet the current water funding gap, but there are significant barriers to impactful and innovative financing; 4) Government regulation and public education can go hand in hand to gain public support for improved water management while supporting social equity; and 5) Leadership is one of the prime movers for innovative finance projects in the water space.

Authors: Lauren Patterson, Martin Doyle, and Nicole Buckley

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Aspen-Nicholas Institute Water Forum

Water Policy

Environmental Economics

Reports

Benefits, Costs, and Distributional Impacts of a Groundwater Trading Program in the Diamond Valley, Nevada

In Nevada’s Diamond Valley, unsustainable groundwater pumping has decreased the aquifer’s water level, raising irrigators’ pumping costs and threatening the viability of existing wells and springs. Continued extraction in excess of natural recharge will trigger a legally required curtailment of water rights in the valley, which was recently declared a critical management area (CMA). The extent of rights curtailment is not mandated, but it could be as high as 64%, the amount required to reach the estimated natural recharge rate. The default policy for curtailment of water rights will occur according to the principle of prior appropriation, whereby rights are revoked in reverse order of their date of issuance. Rights granted most recently will be canceled first, and the revocation will proceed in order of increasing seniority until the government’s desired level of total water extraction is reached. Nevada law requires this intervention to occur within 10 years of the CMA declaration. By law, irrigators and other stakeholders can propose alternative policies for reducing groundwater over-extraction. Because sudden rights curtailment could have detrimental economic impacts, such policies are under discussion. This report analyzes the economic outcomes of sudden and alternative curtailment policies. Using a hydro-economic model tailored to conditions in the region to examine alternative extraction scenarios, the analysis finds that, with no action, the depth to the water table will exceed 200 feet by 2045; with policy action, aquifer levels can be stabilized at 170–180 feet and at higher depths with more gradual curtailment. Across all policy scenarios, net agricultural profit is lowest under the default curtailment policy, and it increases with more gradual curtailment. Under curtailment, allowing parties to trade rights to extract water modestly increases economic benefits relative to no-trade alternatives.

Authors: Harrison Zeff, Greg Characklis, Marc Jeuland, David Kaczan, Brian Murray, and Katie Locklier

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Western

Water Policy

Reports

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