Drowning in Data, Coming up Dry: Making Connections for Meaningful Water Policy Analysis
Roger Claassen, Mary Bohman
Resource & Rural Economics Division, Economic Research Service, USDA, Washington, DC, United States

Analyzing agricultural water quality policy requires data to analyze a complex mix of economic and biophysical factors. Producer decisions depend on trends in global commodity markets, agricultural policy, their own farming operations, and the productivity and topography of specific fields. The extent to which producer decisions affect water quality depends on the soil characteristics, topography, and location of the farm in relation to surface and ground water. Data needed to fully analyze water quality policy requires links from the producer to outcomes.

The U.S. has extensive survey data on farms finances, production, and production practices, administrative data on farm program participation and payments, and geospatial data on agricultural resources including site-specific measures of land quality and location relative to wetlands and water bodies. Despite the apparent richness of these data resources, the inability to combine sources limits the potential for policy analysis. Integration and coordination of data from existing sources could significantly improve agri-environmental policy analysis without expanding data collection efforts. Some existing data sources can be combined without additional information. In other cases, the collection of a small amount of additional reference data could facilitate integration. We discuss potential data integration strategies and the technical, legal, and confidentiality barriers that have arisen in the U.S. Department of Agriculture with attempts to integrate survey, administrative, and geospatial data.

Water quality monitoring information represents a key data limitation. A recent National Research Council report on water quality in the Mississippi River notes that monitoring efforts are split among states and Federal agencies leading to inconsistency in the method and timing of measurements at different points along the river. While existing monitoring efforts have merit, coordination could improve assessment of water quality policy options.

Keywords: Agriculture; Water; Quality; U.S.A.

Biography: Roger Claassen is a senior agricultural economist at the Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. He specializes in conservation and enviornmental policy issues. His research agenda has included work on wetland and grassland policy issues, the effectiveness of conservation compliance and other environmental compliance regulations, cost-effective design of voluntary payment programs for conservation, and socio-economic factors influencing conservation practice adoption. Roger earned a Ph.D. in Agricultural and Resource Economics from the University of Maryland and a B.S. in Agronomy at Kansas State University.