Clallam commissioners briefed on concept of ecosystem valuation

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County has somewhere between $12 billion and $45 billion worth of non-tangible ecosystem services, a economic consultant told the three county commissioners Monday.

Ecosystem services include such aspects as flood protection, recreational value, aesthetic value, storm prevention, waste treatment, climate stability, water filtration and other natural systems.

“We don’t have an appraisal value for that,” said Dave Batker, chief economist and executive director of Earth Economics, a Tacoma-based non-profit.

“That’s what we’re trying to do, just a rough appraisal value. We’re not saying this is the exact dollar value.

“In fact, we look at a low value and a high value for these systems.”

The ecosystem services analysis is part of a broader effort to study marine bluff erosion between Port Angeles and Sequim.

The Port Angeles-based Coastal Watershed Institute received a $320,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency last year to study the bluffs under a Puget Sound Marine and Nearshore Protection and Restoration grant program.

Clallam County is providing geographic information system, or GIS, data and will use the results of the study in its state-mandated Shoreline Master Program update.

Batker said ecosystem services valuation is being used more and more to make decisions about scarce resources.

The economic analysis is about halfway finished, Batker said.

The final results of the entire study will be presented in public workshops at the end of the year, Coastal Watershed Institute Executive Director Anne Shaffer said.

State Department of Ecology officials will gather light detection and ranging, or LIDAR, images of the bluffs of the central Strait of Juan de Fuca. The state Department of Natural Resources will use that information to survey bluff regression.

The economic valuation is intended to “help Clallam County do things better,” Batker said, by contributing to economic development and environmental quality.

Earth Economics has worked extensively around the Pacific Northwest, the Mississippi River delta and Long Island, N.Y.

It is dedicated to “researching and applying economic solutions of tomorrow, today,” according to its website.

Batker said there are consequences of losing ecosystem services.

“You lose natural flood protection, you get a flood district,” he said.

“You pave everything over and you lose that natural conveyance of storm water, you get a stormwater district. The Green River Valley [in Kent] has 16 stormwater districts now, and they’re going to have more stormwater districts.”

Batker used an example from Hurricane Sandy in which New Jersey ended up with a $2.6 billion bill to repair its damaged water infrastructure.

In contrast, the New York area had virtually no damage in a water system that originates from the Catskill Mountains.

“One water supply system was resilient to that huge storm,” he said.

“They were wise in setting up a water infrastructure that fed into the natural system, and they’ve saved a huge amount of money.”

Batker said the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, has adopted the ecosystem services valuation concept, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering it.

He added that the economic study will put Clallam County in a better position to receive federal disaster assistance.

“Clallam County will be one of about six counties in the United States that we’re working with that will have numbers,” he said.

“If you have a disaster, you can use the numbers straight out of this report. So this is immediately useful to Clallam County.”

Clallam County Planning Manager Steve Gray said a major part of the study is to understand of how bluffs are regressing between the Elwha and Dungeness drift cells.

A drift cell is the area where sediment transport occurs.

Batker said Clallam County is “one of the most nearshore-dependent counties in the nation” because of its importance to property values and fisheries production.

Batker said the ecosystem valuation study is “not about a blue or a red perspective.”

“This is actually pragmatic economics,” Batker said. “It’s performance-based. That is what we’re interested in. Performance-based economics.

“Does this provide value? Can you measure it? If you can, we need to incorporate it as we look at things.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: June 03. 2013 6:07PM
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