UBCO prof says preserving water has economic value

November 11, 2007

It would be interesting to research the impact on property values of dropping the level of Okanagan Lake by a metre, mused Tom Siddon, chairman of the Okanagan Water Stewardship Council.

The objective would be to demonstrate the importance, the value, of water conservation, he explained.

He was responding to a presentation to this week’s meeting of the council by economics professor John Janmaat of UBC Okanagan, who detailed how principles of economics can be applied to whatever there is not enough of to go around.

There is even a quantifiable value to what he called “water in the wild,” or water that just is, not because it’s needed for agriculture, drinking, swimming in or boating on. “Maintaining a lake level has value,” he said.

In fact, he said even the quality of surface water has a value, as expressed in its importance for recreation. Property-owners living near a lake will rate that experience according to how clear the water is, he noted, and they are willing to pay for it.

“Water is a scarce and precious resource that needs to be managed to benefit society,” he said.

Janmaat said he is embarking on research into the relationship between water quality and house prices, as well as a number of other projects.

Grant Maddock, of the Urban Development Institute, said, “You can’t put a price on water. Agriculture is why people come to the valley. If the Agricultural Land Reserve is supporting agriculture then everyone should contribute to the viability of farmers.”

No only does the agriculture industry depend on water, but “the development industry is kept going by water,” he noted.