This research conducts a benefit-cost analysis of water policies to reach an optimal level of dissolved oxygen to meet year-round fishable water quality criteria in the Delaware River. A watershed pollutant load model is utilized to estimate marginal cost curves of water quality improvements to meet a more protective year-round fishable standard and annual benefits are defined to achieve future dissolved oxygen criteria in the Delaware River. The most cost effective dissolved oxygen standard is 4.5 mg/L defined by the point where the marginal benefits of willingness to pay (WTP) for improved water quality equals the marginal costs of pollution reduction. This optimal criteria (4.5 mg/L) can be achieved at a cost of $150 million with benefits ranging from $250 to $700 million per year. While a future dissolved oxygen standard of 4.5 mg/L reflects an economically efficient level of water quality, this dissolved oxygen criteria is less protective than the level of 5 to 6 mg/L needed to protect anadromous fish such as the Atlantic sturgeon. The policy to reach a dissolved oxygen level of 6 mg/L (at 80% DO saturation) may be difficult to achieve at summer water temperatures that approach 30°C in the Delaware River at Philadelphia.


Benefit Cost Analysis of Water Quality Policy and Criteria in the Delaware River 2020

Gerald J. Kauffman*

University of Delaware, Water Resources Center, Biden School of Public Policy & Administration, Newark, Del.

*Corresponding author, E-mail:

(KEY TERMS: benefit cost analysis; economics; water quality; river basin.)