US Long-Term Ecological Research Network
Ecological and economic analysis of lake eutrophication by nonpoint pollution
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The hypothesis that economic damage due to nonpoint pollution exceeds costs of mitigation can be tested by ecologists, economists, and resource managers working at the spatial scale of watersheds for periods of years to decades. We present a framework for combining ecological and economic information to compare management scenarios for nonpoint pollution. Eutrophication of lakes caused by nonpoint phosphorus pollution, a common environmental problem, is the focus of our approach. Economic advantages of mitigating nonpoint pollution increase as the uncertainty of ecological predictions decreases. Uncertainty is measured by the prediction variance of nonpoint pollution models. A major source of variance in nonpoint pollution predictions is the effect of land use change on phosphorus transport. This variance is often large because calibration data sets do not have sufficiently wide ranges of land use variables. Ecological predictions and the resulting economic assessments could be improved by comparative studies of watersheds with contrasting land uses, and by viewing nonpoint pollution management as a large-scale experiment.