Research on identifying water values wins award

Lincoln University researcher Dr Sini Miller’s doctoral thesis has earned her a top accolade by identifying how much people are willing to pay for clean fresh water.

Assessing values for multiple and conflicting uses of freshwater in the Canterbury region claimed the most outstanding PhD thesis from the Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society.

The approach used in her thesis involved asking the general public to consider trade-offs across different environmental, social/recreational, Māori cultural and employment outcomes related to water use. The survey data was analysed to quantify the trade-offs that people are willing to make, she says.

The results show Canterbury people are willing to pay $182 extra annually on their rates for improved water quality and habitat, $59 for improved swimming water quality, and $45 for 173 more jobs in the region as a result of additional irrigation.

The study builds on existing research, she says, but extending it by including a Māori cultural-specific attribute. She found people will pay $57 for above average water quality for mahinga kai.

She says freshwater resource management can be challenging, as policy makers have to consider society’s well-being, or welfare, which includes environmental, social, financial and cultural elements.

Generally, Dr Miller says, there is a lack of information of how to compare the costs and benefits of resource related decisions, and how to balance the different elements of well-being which are not always reflected in the market.

The formal identification of values from various perspectives, as well as the exploration of how future irrigation scenarios, also included in the analysis, can impact on society’s well-being is useful information for Canterbury water management, she says.

Organisations involved in this have limited budgets and this could help them learn how to get best outcomes.

Dr Miller is a research assistant at the University’s Agribusiness and Economics Research Unit.

She was nominated for the award by Professor Caroline Saunders, director of the unit.  Her thesis was supervised by Professor Saunders and Dr Peter Tait, also from the unit.





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