EPA Places Value on U.S. Water Supply


In 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) announced that it would synthesize information from across U.S. industry sectors to form a report on the economic value of water in the U.S. market economy.  Known as the “Importance of Water to the United States Economy,” this project consists of multiple stages taking place over the course of two years.

Background Report

In September 2012, EPA published a background report, which compiled current water information from major industry sectors for review.  The report breaks down water use into economic sectors, and then into either an “off-stream” or “in-stream” use.  Economic sectors reported on included recreation and tourism, energy production, manufacturing, and agriculture.Along with publishing the background report, EPA also funded expert papers focusing on different uses of water in the U.S. economy.  Papers ranged in topics from calculating water’s value using computer models to FEMA’s methodology dealing with short-term water supply disruptions.  One example came from the global consulting firm CH2M Hill, who produced a paper with case studies from five companies in five major economic sectors. Those companies, Intel, Rio Tinto, Dow Chemical Company, Chesapeake Energy, and Southern Company, represented the following five economic sectors: semiconductor manufacturing, oil and gas, mining, chemicals, and thermal power generation.EPA also held a technical workshop in September 2012 in Washington, D.C.  During the workshop, EPA presented the papers and background reports with the hope of facilitating discussion over policy decisions based on the information.  EPA also wanted to determine if gaps existed in the information gathered, and, if so, what steps to take to fill them.  While one criticism of the project has been the lack of industry representation on the project board, the workshop did include industry representatives who had the opportunity to submit papers and research as well as engage in discussion over the issues presented at the workshop.In December 2012, EPA was scheduled to publish a final report synthesizing all of the expert papers, the background report, and the feedback from the technical workshop.  Finally, EPA will hold a symposium December 4, 2012 in Washington, D.C. to discuss the final findings as well as future water resource needs.  In 2013, EPA plans to release a final summary of the symposium to recap the information shared.


EPA hopes the public and private sectors use the report for better water policy making decisions.  On the other hand, skeptics of EPA believe the economy focused report will be used to increase regulation on water standards throughout the U.S.  As water scarcity and water competition increase, the need for information on how to handle and evaluate water issues will place greater importance on the project.  However, as one commentator on the project put it, placing a value on water is like playing out an American Express commercial— we all know in the end it’s priceless.


  • CH2MHILL Develops Report on Changing Value of Water to U.S. Economy & Implications from Five Industrial Sectors, CH2MHILL (Sept. 25, 2012), http://newsroom.ch2mhill.com/pr/ch2m/ch2m-hill-develops-report-on-changing-239045.aspx.
  • Alan Kovski, EPA Works Towards Synthesis of Information on Evolving Economics of U.S. Water Supply, 43 ENV’T  REP. 2478 (2012) (discussing EPA project on the value of water for the U.S. economy).
  • Paul Quinlan, Panel Weighs Water’s Economic Impact as EPA Girds for Political Combat, E&E PUBLISHING LLC (Jan. 23, 2012), http://www.eenews.net/public/Greenwire/2012/01/23/3.