Water is Critical to Our Economy

When it comes to supporting the economy by spending money on water-based tourism, I do my share. Like most Americans, I love swimming, fishing, boating and even just hanging out by lakes, streams and beaches in the summertime. This past summer for example, I spent a weekend on the Delaware shore; a week in Wyoming hiking and fishing in pure mountain streams; and a week in New York swimming in the state park beaches. None of that comes cheap – but it is well worth it because I will remember these family vacations forever and my children will as well.

Water is also vital to a number of other economic sectors. Water is used to extract energy and mineral resources from the earth, refine petroleum and chemicals, roll steel, mill paper, and produce uncounted other goods, from semiconductors to the foods and beverages that line supermarket shelves. Water cools the generators and drives the turbines that produce electricity, and sustains the habitat and fish stocks that are vital to the commercial fishing industry. Rivers, lakes, and oceans provide natural highways for commercial navigation. Every sector of the U.S. economy is influenced by water.

Here at EPA, we have studied this issue more closely and are releasing a report on the Importance of Water to the U.S. EconomyThis report is intended to help raise the awareness of water’s importance to our national economic welfare and to summarize information that public and private decision-makers can use to sustainably manage the nation’s water resources.  The report’s main findings:

Water is absolutely fundamental to the U.S. economy
Energy production, food production and water supply account for 94 percent of withdrawal from the nation’s groundwater, streams, rivers and lakes. All parts of the economy are directly or indirectly dependent on energy, food and water supply, so changes in one part of the energy-food-water nexus can impact the others and have a ripple effect through the whole economy.

Water value and competition will rise
Available data does not reflect water’s true worth in the economy. For example, pricing does not usually reflect the marginal value enjoyed by Americans in having safe tap water available from community water systems 24 hours a day, which is a benefit that many citizens in other countries do not enjoy.  As a result of water being undervalued, current use may be inefficient and unsustainable. Also, competition for water will increase as consumption rises, water quality decreases, and the impacts of climate change are felt.

Decision-makers in the private and public sectors need more information
Increased demand for information on reducing water-related risks is growing in the private sector. More robust data and tools could be valuable for decision-making by public water systems and water management agencies. Generating better data and tools will require collective efforts and research by all stakeholders.

EPA hopes this report will be a catalyst for a broader discussion about water’s critical role in the U.S. economy. I encourage you to leave comments below, share your thoughts through Facebook and Twitter, and send email to importanceofwater@epa.gov.

Nancy Stoner is EPA’s Acting Assistant Administrator in EPA’s Office of Water. Since February 1, 2010, Nancy Stoner has been serving as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water. Ms. Stoner’s extensive career in environmental policy and law began in 1987 as a trial attorney in the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Most recently Ms. Stoner served as the Co-Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Water Program. Ms. Stoner is a 1986 graduate of Yale Law School and a 1982 graduate of the University of Virginia.

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