Estimating the Value of Public Water Data

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Public water data, such as river flow from stream gauges or precipitation from weather satellites, produce broad benefits at a cost to the general public. This paper presents a review of the academic literature on the costs and benefits of government investments in public water data. On the basis of 21 studies quantifying the costs and benefits of public water quantity data, it appears that the median benefit-cost ratio across different economic sectors and geographic regions is 4:1. But a great deal of uncertainty attends this number; very few studies empirically quantify or monetize the costs, the benefits, or both of water information with sound economic methods, and no studies have quantified the value of water quality information. This review is part of an ongoing effort by the Nicholas Institute of Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University and the Aspen Institute to develop the foundations of an Internet of Water by quantifying the potential value of open and integrated public water data.






Gardner, John, Martin Doyle and Lauren Patterson (2017). Estimating the Value of Public Water Data. Retrieved from



Martin Doyle

Professor in the Environmental Sciences and Policy Division

Martin Doyle is a Professor at Duke University focused on the science and policy of rivers and water in the US.  His work ranges from fluid mechanics and sediment transport to infrastructure finance and federal water policy. His first book, The Source (WW Norton, February, 2018), is a history of America’s rivers.  His second book, Streams of Revenue (MIT Press, 2021) is an analysis of ecosystem markets. In addition to his role as a professor, Doyle has had several stints in government: in 2015-2016, he moved to the Department of Interior, where he helped establish the Natural Resources Investment Center, an initiative of the Obama Administration to push forward private investment in water infrastructure, enable water marketing, and increase the use of markets and conservation banks for species conservation.  Prior to that, in 2009-2010, he was the inaugural Frederick J. Clarke Scholar at the US Army Corps of Engineers.  

He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Early Career Award from the National Science Foundation, recognized as a Kavli Fellow for the Frontiers of Science from the National Academy of Sciences and selected to deliver the Gilbert White Lecture by the National Academy of Sciences.


Lauren Patterson


Lauren Patterson joined Duke's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions as a policy associate in October 2013. Her research focuses on changes in average streamflow, floods, and droughts due to climate and human impacts. She has also worked on water utility financing, water transfers between utilities, and drought probabilities. Lauren has an affinity for data analysis and visualization.

Before joining the Nicholas Institute, she contracted at RTI International to provide geospatial and data analysis support in the development of ecological flow recommendations for North Carolina's Ecological Flow Advisory Board. Prior to her time at RTI, she worked at the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, serving as a GIS and Financial Analyst focused on modeling future potential water transfers in North Carolina and developing sustainable finance strategies for the Upper Neuse watershed.

She has a Ph.D. in geography from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

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