Patrick J. Walsh, William J. Wheeler
March 28, 2013
The water quality index (WQI) has emerged as a central way to convey water quality information to policy makers and the general public and is regularly used in US EPA regulatory impact analysis. It is a compound indicator that aggregates information from several water quality parameters. Several recent studies have criticized the aggregation function of the EPA WQI, arguing that it suffers from “eclipsing” and other problems. Although past papers have compared various aggregation functions in the WQI (usually looking at correlation), this is the first paper to examine these functions in the context of benefit-cost analysis. Using data from the 2003 EPA CAFO rule, the present paper examines four aggregation functions and their impact on estimated benefits. Results indicate that the aggregation method can have a profound effect on benefits, with total benefit estimates varying from $82 million to $504 million dollars. The net benefits of the rule vary from negative to positive over this range of estimates. Furthermore, a sensitivity analysis does not find convincing evidence to substitute the current aggregation function, although several changes to the underlying WQI methodology may be warranted.