This paper presents a framework for analyzing the economic, health, and recreation implications of swim closures related to high fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) levels. The framework utilizes benefit transfer policy analysis to provide a practical procedure for estimating the effectiveness of recreational water quality policies. Evaluation criteria include the rates of intended and unintended management outcomes, whether the chosen protocols generate closures with positive net economic benefits to swimmers, and the number of predicted illnesses the policy is able to prevent. We demonstrate the framework through a case study of a Lake Michigan freshwater beach using existing water quality and visitor data from 1998 to 2001. We find that a typical closure causes a net economic loss among would-be swimmers totaling $1274-37 030/ day, depending on the value assumptions used. Unnecessary closures, caused by high indicator variability and a 24-h time delay between when samples are taken and the management decision can be made, occurred on 14 (12%) out of 118 monitored summer days. Days with high FIB levels when the swim area is open are also common but do relatively little economic harm in comparison. Also, even if the closure policy could be implemented daily and perfectly without error, only about 42% of predicted illnesses would be avoided. These conclusions were sensitive to the relative values and risk preferences that swimmers have for recreation access and avoiding health effects, suggesting a need for further study of the impacts of recreational water quality policies on individuals.
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Economic and health risk trade-offs of swim closures at a Lake Michigan beach