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    Encyclopedia of Energy, Natural Resource, and Environmental Economics - 1st Edition

    This article emphasizes two measures of water quality—the dissolved oxygen saturation of water, and whether waters are fishable—though also reports results for other measures. We focus on dissolved oxygen saturation because it is among the most common omnibus measures of water quality in research, it responds to a wide variety of pollutants, and it is a continuous rather than binary measure of pollution, which alleviates concerns about failing to measure inframarginal changes in water quality.

    Most aquatic life requires dissolved oxygen to survive. Water can absorb dissolved oxygen from the air but loses dissolved oxygen when microorganisms consume oxygen to decompose pollution. Dissolved oxygen levels move inversely with temperature. Dissolved oxygen saturation represents the dissolved oxygen level divided by the maximum oxygen level expected given the water temperature, so implicitly adjusts for water temperature. Actual dissolved oxygen saturation is bounded below at zero describing water with no oxygen but is not bounded above.

    Dissolved oxygen deficits are defined as minus dissolved oxygen saturation.

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    We focus also on the fishable standard because making water safe for fishing is a major goal of the Clean Water Act, and because recreational fishing is believed to be a main reason why people value water quality. This definition distills several published water quality criteria and state water quality standards from between and To implement these definitions in the data, we pool data from these pollutants and define a dummy for whether a raw pollution reading exceeds the relevant standard.

    Describing these other pollutants may help interpret results. BOD measures the amount of oxygen consumed by decomposing organic matter. Fecal coliforms proxy for the presence of pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and protozoa like E. Pathogens including fecal coliforms are the most common reason water quality violates state standards today USEPA TSS measures the quantity of solids in water that is trapped by a filter.

    Most TSS comes from agriculture and urban runoff. We also report a few results for three additional groups of pollutants: industrial pollutants like lead, mercury, and phenols; nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus; and other general water quality measures like temperature. We use a standardized criterion, described in Online Appendix B. One important question is how far these pollutants travel downstream.

    What is Nonpoint Source Pollution?

    We focus on a distance of 25 miles for several reasons. They chose this distance to reflect 15 watershed-specific studies designed to remedy pollution problems. Second, an interview with a wastewater regulation specialist at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources suggested that effects of treatment plants on dissolved oxygen would be concentrated within 20 miles downriver.

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    We use eight types of data; Online Appendix B provides additional details. NHD organizes the United States into approximately river basins, 2, watersheds, 70, named rivers, 3. A river in these data consists of a set of river nodes i. NHD forms a network describing the flow direction of each river or stream segment and helps us follow water pollution upstream or downstream.

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    See details in Online Appendix B. Streams that flow into oceans, the Great Lakes, Canada, or Mexico are the darkest. Streams that flow into these are lighter; streams that flow into these are still lighter, and so on. Panel C shows monitoring sites appearing in the years — We use data on U. We use latitude and longitude data from the first available year for a plant CWNS reports this beginning in , and grant identifying codes for all available years.

    We limit the analysis to plants that report nonzero population served. We filed two Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain details on each of the 35, Clean Water Act grants the federal government gave to these plants.

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    We restrict the analysis to grants with nonmissing award date, grant amount, and total project cost including both federal and local capital expenditures. The data also report the name of the overseeing government authority city, county, state, or special district , a grant identifier code, and the name of the recipient treatment plant.

    The data also include grants in the years — given under predecessor laws to the Clean Water Act. For simplicity, the analysis counts multiple grants to a treatment plant in a calendar year as a single grant. Modern Storet is similar to Storet Legacy but covers more recent years. The Storet repositories have data from many local organizations.

    Online Appendix B. Among the four main pollutants, about half the data describe dissolved oxygen.

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    • Almost half the data come from monitoring sites that report readings in at least three of the four decades we analyze. No sampling design explains why certain areas and years were monitored more than others. In some cases, hydrologists purposefully designed representative samples of U. In other cases, sampling locations and frequency were chosen by local governments or nongovernmental organizations. The census only included metro areas in tracts, so these tract-level data for are restricted to metro areas, and so much of our analysis is as well.

      We use these census data because they have national coverage and because transaction-level records from county assessor offices, such as those aggregated by Dataquick or CoreLogic, generally do not extend back to the s. We seek to determine a distance around a river that covers most individuals who travel to participate in recreation at this river. This survey is the only source we know that provides a large nationally representative sample of recreational activities and travel distances over the period we study.

      Of course, these data represent all recreational trips and do not distinguish whether water-based recreation trips require different travel distances. We are aware of two comparisons between great circle and road distances. The mean ratio of the road distance to the great circle distance is 1. Second, a recent study compared driving distance versus great circle distances for travel from a representative sample of 70, locations in the United States to the nearest community hospital, and the average ratio was also 1. To examine the pass-through of federal Clean Water Act grants to municipal spending on wastewater treatment, we use data from the — Annual Survey of State and Local Government Finances and the Census of Governments.