The Cost of Keeping Beaches Clean

For a committee of co-permittees including the city of San Diego, San Diego County, and Orange County, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, and U.S. EPA Region 9, ECONorthwest conducted one of the most comprehensive benefit-cost analyses and financial analyses associated with water quality investment to-date. It involved analysis of alternatives for reducing bacteria and other human source pathogens in waters across the two counties, particularly at beaches. Mark Buckley was lead economist, including direction and motivation of numerous other supporting disciplinary analyses including engineering, biology, and epidemiology. The project was motivated by water quality compliance costs of potentially over $2 billion to local ratepayers. The work is in support of development of a bacteria TMDL (total maximum daily load) motivated by recreational use water quality standards. 

The project provides cutting-edge economic analysis regarding public health and recreation benefits associated with improvement of water quality conditions during wet periods (storm days and immediately after). Much of the analysis is motivated by efforts to find more efficient and more effective compliance strategies, and financially manageable implementation strategies across multiple jurisdictions. The work includes extensive epidemiological monitoring and modeling to understand the relationships between various pathogens, storm events, and illness rates. It also includes full modeling of behavior by visitors to beaches that is potentially responsive to water quality conditions or involves exposure to pathogens. The work involves coordination and standardization of analyses across numerous jurisdictions and underlying modeling data, and many scenarios in terms of potential water quality objectives and control strategies. The work also considers a wide range of secondary co-benefits including hedonic property analysis, particularly associated with green infrastructure.