"Estuary systems are economic assets," says WRA Director Gerald Kauffman, who studies water science and policy research and holds secondary appointments in the School of Public Policy and Administration and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
"If we can improve the environment," he says, "we can also have spin-off effects on economic redevelopment."
While environmentalists have long touted the benefits of preserving estuaries, wetlands and other fragile environments, Kauffman's research provides an economic incentive for their restoration.
The Delaware River Basin Conservation Act of 2011, to be introduced next month by U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), would authorize federal funding for the Delaware Estuary.
"It's a cost-effective investment," says Kauffman. "It's worth it for the public and private sector to invest in these watersheds because it will pay off in economic impact and jobs."
The Delaware Estuary has a long economic and ecological history—companies across the mid-Atlantic region, from DuPont to the Salem Nuclear Power Plant, depend on its waters to sustain their business. Still, there has been scant research on its economic impact. Studies from two decades ago estimated the estuary to be worth hundreds of millions, perhaps billions.
"By putting an economic value on ecology, we can show that the natural resources of the Delaware Estuary provide real and significant economic benefits to the tri-state region," says Kauffman. "What's more, we can show they're worthy of investment to keep them healthy and productive."
Kauffman is project director for the Water Resources Agency, which provides water resources planning and policy assistance to local governments. The WRA is a unit of the School of Public Policy and Administration's Institute for Public Administration. His research team includes associate policy scientist Andrew Homsey and public policy graduate students Sarah Chatterson, Stacey Mack and Erin McVey.
Their work was commissioned by the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, one of just 28 tidal systems named by Congress to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Estuary Program, and their findings are detailed in an online report, Economic Value of the Delaware Estuary Watershed.
Kauffman also presented their research at a press conference on on the banks of the Christina River in Wilmington. Hosted by Carper's office, the event promoted the senator's new bill and included remarks from the governor's office, environmental leaders and others.