Ensuring Equitable Access to Water in a Changing Climate

Assistant Professor Casey Wichman

Posted May 21, 2021

How can water utilities in Georgia and the southeast adapt to climate change? Assistant Professor Casey Wichman in the School of Economics seeks to find out. 

Wichman was awarded a 2021 Small Grant for White Papers at the Intersection of Science, Technology, and Public Policy for his summer project. With the funding from Georgia Tech Strategic Plan Advisory Group, Wichman will examine how water prices and policies in southeastern states can improve in the face of changing weather and temperature patterns. This work builds on his previous research that found the poorest households in the US are spending more than 8% of their monthly income on water, almost double the percentage that is considered affordable.  

Wichman shared more about the project, his inspiration, and why interdisciplinary work between economics and public policy is crucial for effective solutions to climate change. 

What aspect of this research are you most excited about?
I am most excited about learning what water utilities have been doing to adapt to climate change and whether economics can add anything to increase the ability of water utilities to be resilient to changes in water availability. For water utilities specifically, solutions tend to be “engineering solutions,” and I am excited to contribute the unique insights in climate adaptation that an economics perspective can provide.

What's the most significant real-world policy application your findings could have here in Atlanta?
At this stage, the policy implication of this remains to be determined, but this project will utilize data on water prices and water use from Georgia and other states in the southeast. The data will help identify how local water utilities are adapting to changes in water availability and how water prices and policies can be improved to ensure equitable access to water for residents into the future.

What inspired you to work in sustainability and environmental issues as an economist?
I decided to study economics because I wanted to study environmental issues. From my perspective, economics provided a coherent framework for understanding how we value the environment, how we can understand human behavior when our decisions affect (or are affected) by the environment, and how we can evaluate policies that seek to improve environmental stewardship.

Why is interdisciplinary research — in this case, between economics and public policy - so crucial in combating climate change?
From my view, economics and public policy are inextricably linked. We need to use economics to understand the costs and benefits of potential policies — particularly in a space like climate change — before any policy recommendations can be evaluated.

Wichman will publish his findings from the project, titled How Can Water Utilities Adapt to Climate Change?, later in the summer. Connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to make sure you don’t miss it. Or, explore more featured research from the ECON faculty, like the Drawdown Georgia project to reduce the state's carbon footprint and the complex relationship between income and smoking.

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