Written by Jessica A. Knoblauch, Environmental Science and Policy Program
Can a lake's water quality benefit the economy? That's a question that assistant professor Dr. Kendra S. Cheruvelil is trying to answer by conducting an economic evaluation of Michigan lakes. Cheruvelil is currently working with the Water Resources Institute and with Dr. Dan Kramer at James Madison College using hedonic regression models to demonstrate the monetary importance of good lake water quality to state legislators and stake-holders. These models estimate in dollar amounts the lake's "worth" based on the premise that the price of a marketed good such as lakefront property is related to its characteristics, such as water clarity, or the services it provides.
If lawmakers can see that better water quality results in a larger tax base, they're more likely to support policy discourages polluting the water. "It's hard to put a value on an aquatic resource," says Cheruvelil, "but if you're able to put it into dollar amounts, then that's something that makes sense to people."
Cheruvelil is working on several other projects in addition to her lake evaluation research. As an aquatic ecologist, Cheruvelil's research tends to focus on lakes, specifically water quality, aquatic plants and the landscape data. "I'd like to better understand what drives variation among lakes, and to improve management and conservation of lakes," says Cheruvelil.
One research project involves developing a national lake classification framework as part of the US EPA Survey of the Nation's Lakes. One way to assess and improve water quality in large regions with many lakes is for agencies to classify, or group, similar lakes, which allows for extrapolation of attributes from sampled to unsampled lakes. The EPA chose lakes to sample in 2007 using lake size and location classes. Cheruvelil and her colleagues are taking this classification system further by including other important landscape features such as geology and soils. "It will help us get a better idea of what drives variability among lakes and asses and monitor lake health across the nation," says Cheruvelil.
Cheruvelil is jointly appointed in the department of Fisheries and Wildlife and the Lyman Briggs School of Science. She came to Michigan State in August 2006. This was not her first time at Michigan State, however. Cheruvelil received both her master's degree and her Ph.D. in Fisheries and Wildlife here. After graduation, she was hired at Purdue University North Central as an assistant professor in the Biology department. Cheruvelil then returned to MSU as a visiting assistant professor, splitting her time between two projects, one funded by the US EPA and one funded by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
Cheruvelil says she decided on Michigan State because of possibilities of the joint appointment. She explained that Lyman Briggs is a school that places a lot of emphasis on good teaching and undergraduate student learning and the MSU Fisheries and Wildlife department provides a perfect "research home" for her, so it was the best of both worlds. "Both programs were a really nice fit for me," said Cheruvelil.
Dr. Cheruvelil teaches Introduction to Organismal Biology at the Lyman Briggs School and plans to co-teach a graduate level class on landscape ecology next semester.