Recreational demand for clean water: Evidence from geotagged photographs by visitors to lakes

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 12:08 PM
Bonnie Keeler1, Spencer Wood2, Stephen Polasky1, Catherine Kling3, Christopher Filstrup3 and John A Downing3, (1)University of Minnesota Twin Cities, Minneapolis, MN, United States, (2)Stanford University, Stanford, CA, United States, (3)Iowa State University, Ames, IA, United States
More than 41,000 waters are listed as impaired by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Water Act. Regulations designed to address these impairments can be costly, raising questions about the value of the public benefits that would result from additional investments in improving surface water quality. Benefit studies often rely on costly surveys or other detailed data collection, limiting the ability to apply nonmarket valuation methods to address policy needs. We assessed the recreational value of changes in water quality using freely-available geotagged photographs as a proxy for recreational visits to lakes. We find that improved water clarity is associated with greater lake photo-visitation and that lake users are willing to travel further to visit clearer lakes. We estimate a one-meter increase in lake clarity in Minnesota and Iowa lakes is associated with $22 in increased willingness-to-pay per trip and generates 1,400 additional annual visits per lake, holding all other lake attributes constant. Our approach demonstrates the potential of data from social media to inform human responses to environmental change.