Water Resources Economics, Planning & Communications
Green Infrastructure Planning
Exploring market-based solutions for green infrastructure implementation in the Great Lakes Region
Under a grant from the Great Lakes Protection Fund, Corona’s economists worked with American Rivers and the Water Environment Federation (WEF) to explore market-based solutions for green infrastructure implementation in two Great Lakes communities: Grand Rapids, MI and Cleveland, OH. In Grand Rapids, the team worked with staff from the City’s Environmental Services Department to design a volume-based stormwater credit trading program that allows for offsite compliance with stormwater retention standards through the purchase of GI-based stormwater retention credits. The team performed a feasibility assessment to estimate the potential supply and demand for credit-trading and worked closely with the City to design a program that is appropriate for local conditions. In Cleveland, the project team worked with the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District to explore options for optimizing and expanding the utility’s GI grant program. A key focus of this assessment was to leverage alternative funding sources and participation from community groups based on the multiple benefits of GSI.
Corona’s economists have worked on similar projects related to market-based solutions and GI incentive programs throughout the country, including in Cook County, IL and Los Angeles, CA, as a subcontractor to The Nature Conservancy, as well as in Houston, TX. We also developed comprehensive guidance for implementing GI incentive programs for private property owners for the Water Research Foundation.
Framework and Tool for Quantifying and Monetizing the Triple Bottom Line Benefits of Green Stormwater Infrastructure.
For the Water Research Foundation, and in coordination with 15 utilities across the country, Corona’s economists are developing an economic framework and tool to help stormwater practitioners quantify and monetize the financial, social, and environmental (i.e., TBL) benefits of GSI at the community or neighborhood scale. The economic framework (see figure) leads users through each step of TBL analysis, from developing a GSI scenario, to establishing a baseline, identifying and valuing applicable benefits, developing useful outputs, understanding uncertainties and assumptions, and appropriately comparing benefits and costs. The stand-alone Excel-based tool provides default values and calculates benefits based on user inputs.
The framework and tool apply various economic valuation techniques, including non-market valuation (stated preference, revealed preference), avoided cost methods, and benefits transfer to monetize the benefits of GSI. Benefit categories included in the tool are outlined below.
Social benefits include those that accrue to residents and the broader community:
- Public health benefits associated with reduced urban heat stress
- Public health benefits associated with improved air quality
- Flood risk reduction (avoided damage costs)
- Aesthetic improvements (as measured through increased property values)
- Improved recreational opportunities
- Green job creation
Financial benefits include those that accrue directly to the utility/municipality and/or the implementor of GSI projects in the form of cost savings.
- Avoided gray infrastructure costs (including asset life extension).
- Energy savings
Environmental benefits reflect direct environmental services provided by GSI. They are often valued based on household “willingness-to-pay” for specified environmental improvements or the ecosystem services that they provide.
- Water quality and associated habitat improvements.
- Wetland habitat and ecosystem benefits.
- Decreased greenhouse gases (GHGs).
Affordability of Water and Wastewater Services
Corona’s economists have conducted affordability assessments for utilities and municipalities throughout the country, including for Denver Water (CO), Westminster, CO; Columbus, OH; Phoenix, AZ; and New York City, NY. These studies often involve analysis of water use and billing data across household types, income levels, and at various geographic scales (e.g., by neighborhood or Census tract), as well as using socioeconomic data to assess affordability issues for different populations, including single- and multi-family households, renters, home owners, and elderly residents. We have developed and applied affordability indicators that better reflect the economic realities of low-income households than EPA’s current Residential Indicator, which relies on median household income. Our affordability assessments allow utilities to identify vulnerable populations and target assistance programs and/or rate design accordingly.
In addition to local level analyses, Corona’s economists have also conducted several national level affordability studies that have directly influenced affordability policy. In 2013, Corona’s economists served as the lead authors on the Affordability Assessment Tool for Federal Water Mandates, in partnership with the American Water Works Association (AWWA), the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the Water Environment Federation (WEF). More recently, we worked as part of a team to help AWWA, WEF, and the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) to make recommendations to the EPA on alternative affordability metrics that would help the agency and communities better assess the affordability impacts of federal-water related mandates. For the Water Research Foundation, we developed comprehensive guidance to help utilities develop customer assistance programs for “hard-to-reach” customers, including multi-family households and renters who do not receive a water or wastewater bill directly from a utility.