Jump to main content or area navigation.

Contact Us

Water: Liquid Assets

Liquid Assets 2000: The Business of Clean Water

How Water Quality Affects Major Economic Sectors

The impact of clean water on the recreation and tourism industry is profound. But the same is true for many other sectors of our economy. In many ways clean water is the fuel that powers the nation's economic engine. Commercial fishing, agriculture, real estate, and manufacturing are just a few of the sectors that rely on clean water to operate and ensure productivity. Every day these and other sectors of the U.S. economy rely on clean water to grow, process, or deliver their products and services.

Recreation and Tourism Bring Jobs and Profits

Fishing Revenues Return to Lake Winnebago

Lake Winnebago in Fond Du Lac County, Wisconsin, is the host of many national fishing tournaments. When residents got tired of seeing summer algae blooms (sometimes so bad that they covered the entire lake, creating a foul smell) they formed the Lake Winnebago East Priority Watershed Project to save their precious lake and fishing tourism revenues. The project worked with local farmers to install manure storage facilities and fence cows from area streams. The Wisconsin Department of Trade and Consumer Protection and the Fond du Lac County Land Conservation Department joined to install a sediment control basin and grassed waterway. These efforts will keep an estimated 320 tons of sediment out of the water each year, preventing excess nutrients from polluting the lake.

Beautiful beaches, white-water rivers, and calm, cool lakes contribute to a flourishing recreation and tourism industry in this country. Water has a powerful attraction for people, which is translating into jobs and profits for our economy. The travel, tourism, and recreation industries supported jobs for more than 6.8 million people and generated annual sales in 1996 of more than $450 billion. Water-related recreation and tourism make for a large part of those jobs and revenue. Almost all Americans participate in water-based recreation and tourism and spend about 10 percent of their income on recreational activities. Sales of kayaks and canoes in 1996 alone exceeded $99 million

When people decide to plan vacations and travel for pleasure, there is a strong tendency to head to the water. A third of all Americans visit coastal areas each year, making a total of 910 million trips while spending about $44 billion. Coastal tourism supports businesses like hotels, resorts, restaurants, outdoor outfitters, chartered fishing services, cruiselines, and real estate and travel agencies. For many Americans, a day at the beach provides recreation, relaxation, and a chance to renew the spirit.

A significant portion of recreational spending is tied to fish and wildlife, both of which require high quality water and habitat (e.g., wetlands, vegetated stream banks, and silt-free streambeds) for survival. Thirty-five million American anglers, aged 16 or older, spent $38 billion in pursuit of their sport in 1996. Fishing expenditures increased by 37 percent between 1991 and 1996. Over the period from 1955 to 1996, angler participation rates increased by more than twice the rate of population growth. If sportfishing were incorporated as a single business, it would rank 24th on the Fortune 500 list of top sales producers, surpassing such giants as General Motors, Exxon, Mobil, and AT&T.

Big and small game and migratory birds that depend on clean water also generate economic activity for the recreation and tourism industry. In 1996 nearly 14 million people spent about $20 billion hunting game and migratory waterfowl. They made 223 million trips and spent $5.2 billion on trip-related expenses and $11 billion on equipment. Even more Americans watch and photograph wildlife. More than 62 million people participate in this relaxing--and sometimes exciting--pastime every year, spending more than $29 billion.



Commercial Fishery Yields Depend on Clean Water

Baltimore journalist H.L. Mencken once described the Chesapeake Bay as a giant protein factory because of its incredibly productive fish and shellfish habitat. Every year our nation's protein factories--the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico, and other coastal areas--produce more than 10 billion pounds of fish and shellfish. The seafood industry in California alone generates sales exceeding $800 million annually, according to the California Seafood Council. But profitable fisheries and a prosperous economy have come at a cost to fish populations in coastal waters, a situation only worsened by polluted waters.

Data from the National Marine Fisheries Service show declining populations for many species, including salmon, halibut, perch, cod, haddock, and flounder. These declines can be linked to a number of factors, including overfishing and habitat loss. Environmental degradation is a key factor. Wetlands provide critical habitat during various life cycle phases for about 70 percent of all commercial fish species. Although we have significantly reduced the rate of wetland loss, wetlands are being degraded at a rapid rate by sediments, nutrients, hydromodification (i.e., building of dams and channelizing streams), invasive species, and other causes. In the Clean Water Action Plan, the President set a goal of reversing the historic pattern of wetland losses in the United States and achieving a net increase of 100,000 acres of wetlands each year, beginning in 2005.

Clean Water Feeds America

Water is an absolute necessity for ensuring agricultural productivity. American farmers produce food and fiber products worth $197 billion a year. The sale of livestock and poultry makes up $98 billion of the total, with the cattle industry alone accounting for $40 billion of all meat sales. Water, in combination with rich agricultural lands and technological advancements, helps make all this productivity possible. The agricultural industry uses 63 percent of all groundwater withdrawals, mostly for irrigation. An estimated 55 million acres were irrigated in 1997.


Using Partnerships to Solve Water Quality Problems in Farm Country

Ten years ago, Iowa's Bigalk Creek was not much more than a watering trough for cattle. The historical rainbow trout populations were virtually wiped out due to sedimentation and high bacteria levels. To reduce erosion in the watershed, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service undertook an important water quality project. They fenced off an important section of the stream for trout reproduction and installed nose pumps to provide water to cattle while keeping them away from the stream bank. These actions have kept an estimated 12,285 tons of soil out of Bigalk Creek, reduced livestock manure loadings by 50 percent, and raised awareness regarding pesticide and fertilizer impacts in the watershed. Bigalk Creek is now one of only three streams in Iowa with documented reproduction of rainbow trout.

Source: Howard Soil and Water Conservation District, 2000

Real Estate Values Soar at the Water's Edge

When it comes to real estate, a waterfront view is a prime selling feature--as long as the water is clean. Ocean, lake, and riverfront properties often sell or rent for several times the value of similar properties located inland.

Community and business leaders also understand the potential value of waterfront locations. Today waterfronts are often a focal point for urban renewal in many cities. Before passage of the 1972 Clean Water Act, many of our rivers and waterfronts were so polluted that no one wanted to go near them, much less invest in new development. But times are changing. Twenty-five years ago, the Connecticut River was considered a polluted nuisance. Today, this American Heritage River has become a source of beauty, recreation and economic revitalization. Along with the Clean Water Act, efforts by Riverfront Recapture, Inc. and state and local groups have paid off. In the shadow of the downtown Hartford skyline, people are fishing, rowing and water skiing. Outdoor sporting events like top-level bass tournaments are doing more than showcasing the river, they are generating millions for the local economy. With the emergence of riverfront parks, land near the river is becoming highly desirable again. Riverfront Plaza will soon be home to a convention center, hotel, retail and entertainment facilities, housing, and an aquarium or discovery center. With nearly a billion dollars worth of development planned for sites along the river, the Connecticut is reclaiming its role as the region's economic lifeline.

Lake Residents Pay for Clean Water

West Boggs Lake in southern Illinois is owned and maintained by the Daviess and Martin Joint County Parks and Recreation Department. Upon observing poor water quality and a slump in new home sales, the department enacted a special-use permit fee for water-use activities that degrade water quality. In 1999 the Department collected more than $450,000 in user fees, which were deposited into a special park fund to improve lake water quality. Since the program's inception, West Boggs Lake's water quality and recreational fishing have dramatically improved. Lakeside residents have also seen an increase in real estate values and sales.

Manufacturing: Water Fuels the Nation's Industries


The size and nature of American industries vary widely, and yet nearly all of them share a common need--a reliable source of water to support operations. In 1995 the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that manufacturing companies used more than nine trillion gallons of fresh water per year, approximately four percent more than they had used in 1990. In many cases water is needed primarily for production purposes, such as in the manufacturing of computer chips or steel, and is treated and returned to a surface water or groundwater source. Proper treatment of this returned water is a vital component of the nation's water program under the Clean Water Act.

"Water has a psychological value.... People derive measurable pleasure from recreational activities like boating and fishing and find comfort in knowing that the water they drink is of the highest quality."

--The National Water Research Institute

Previous | Table of Contents | Next

Back to National Water Quality Homepage

Jump to main content.