Earth Day: UF FRE’s environmental economists use research to understand climate, environment and sustainability issues.

Albert Einstein once said, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” 

Daily, the environmental economists at the University of Florida Food and Resource Economics are looking to gain a deeper understanding of nature: the natural resources it provides and the social and economic issues that are often intertwined with environmental challenges face.  

For Earth Day, we are looking at just a few of the recent projects carried out by our faculty, which focus on the important climate and environment-related questions facing our planet.    

Water as a Limited Resource – The Value of Property Rights 

Climate change and continued population growth have put the U.S. West into ongoing fights over its scarce water resources,” Ji said. “Fueling this growing contention is the ambiguity in the way Western states allocate their water.” 

Dr. James Ji, assistant professor of Food and Resource Economics at UF, uses environmental economics to generate a better understanding of the societal impacts of resource use and environmental change. One area of focus for Ji recently has been on issues surrounding water scarcity.  

In a study looking at Idaho’s Snake River Basin, Ji, and his collaborators were able to document how a legislative reform clarified property rights to the water and generates measurable gains to farmers. 

The reform, known as adjudication, was a long-term legislative process during which all water users in the basin were identified, the extent of their water rights determined, and any conflicts over overlapping rights resolved. 

Using a combination of empirical methods, the authors were able to estimate the economic value of the policy change and found that the benefits for both economy and the environment were immense, with more efficient water use and an estimated $400 million economic benefit. 

“After adjudication, the water rights trading rate doubled, water goes to more productive lands, and farmers are able to plant more profitable crops,” Ji said.  

The full article is available for download here. 


Water as a Resource to Protect– Using Policy to Improve Water Quality 

“Environmental economists bridge the important gap between understanding the complex dynamics of water pollution and designing effective water policies, ensuring that the precious water resource is preserved for our future generations,” said Weng. 

Dr. Weizhe Weng, assistant professor of Food and Resource Economics at UF, focuses her research on exploring the relationships between human and natural systems. By innovatively applying economic and interdisciplinary approaches, Weng can evaluate the possible effects of different policies and provides a solid basis for making science-based decisions. 

One recent project Weng has been working on focuses on the benefits of water-quality policies on the Lake Mendota Watershed in Wisconsin.  

In the interdisciplinary study, Weng and her collaborators developed an integrated assessment model that tightly couples a constrained optimization model of agricultural land and fertilizer-use decision-making with an agronomic model of terrestrial nutrient cycling. 

By using this model, the team was able to look at the benefits and costs of water policy in a comprehensive and systematic way.  

“We applied our model empirically to Lake Mendota Watershed in Wisconsin, USA, and found that co-benefits from reduced nitrous oxide emissions, which accrue at a broad geographic scale, exceed the benefits from relatively local water quality improvements by 20-fold,” Weng said.  

Currently, promoting climate-smart agriculture practices is highlighted in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s programs. Weng said that it is worth noting that many climate-friendly practices are also water friendly. 

Considering the joint production of water and climate benefits, it is essential to have more collaborations between natural scientists and economists for successfully modeling agri-environment systems,” Weng said.



For more information on all of our environmentally focused faculty and their current research projects, please visit the FRE website. 


Alena Poulin
Posted: April 22, 2023

Category: Natural Resources, Water
Tags: Blue Capital Lab, Earth Day, Food And Resource Economics

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