Madison Biggs

Madison Biggs

“Investments in environmental issues are job-killers!”

“It’s going to hurt the economy!”

These are common misconceptions about the effects of tackling water and soil quality issues. However, after researching this concept at University of Wisconsin–Stout for 8 weeks, Dr. Chris Ferguson, fellow student researcher Ryleigh Prochnow and I discovered that improving the health of the environment can have a positive impact on the local economy.

In 2015, The Red Cedar Water Quality Partnership created a plan to reduce the amount of phosphorus pollution into the water bodies of the Red Cedar Watershed. This plan has various goals to reduce phosphorus runoff aimed at agricultural and residential properties, and these strategies are to be implemented over a 10-year span. So the question that we wanted to answer is: How is this 10-year water quality strategy going to affect the local economy?

In order to model the economies of Dunn and Barron counties, we utilized a program called IMPLAN, an input-output software system. This modeling system allows researchers to provide inputs that are expected to change the economy, and then IMPLAN provides us with the outputs. For example, we have materials and labor in construction projects that will reduce waste runoff and found that those inputs branch out and spill over into 226 other sectors of the economy.

The value of soil

Our cost estimates originate from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). We also wanted to incorporate the value of soil in our economic impact, which is very uncommon in current and previous economic research. This was achieved by incorporating Francisco Arriaga’s research from UW-Madison. Arriaga determined that if we have one cubic ton of soil, and a certain percentage of it consists of phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium, and organic matter, then we can assign current market values to those percentages and place a value on how much the eroded soil is worth.

From our research, we can see that this implementation plan has the potential to grow the local economy by $38 million by 2025. The value of soil that would be saved is approximately $2 million — and jobs would increase by 449 new positions. From an individual landowner’s perspective, whether the benefits outweigh the costs is unclear because of the variability in each case. Previous research, however, indicates increased savings or no changes in costs in the long run for farmers, in particular when implementing many of the strategies outlined in the TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) plan, such as no-till and cover crop systems. What’s exciting about this research is that we have the potential to witness economic growth, while attempting to solve a serious environmental issue. This completely goes against the widely-held belief that environmental investments kill jobs and hinder growth.

Along the lines of growth, the LAKES REU Program has helped me grow in ways I could not have imagined. It has given me ambition to work towards my dream of getting a Ph.D. in Economics, and it has given me confidence in my ability to do so. Our mentors are so incredible that I’m finding it difficult to put into words. They inspire us, make us laugh — and ask us the tough life questions that help us grow in our perspectives on life. I feel so grateful for the opportunity to work here in Menomonie with these wonderful professors, and for the experience of engaging in finding solutions to real-life problems.

The annual Red Cedar Watershed Conference is set to take place on Thursday, March 8 at UW-Stout’s Memorial Student Center in Menomonie. For details, visit

Madison Biggs of Drake University took part in the Linked Applied Knowledge in Environmental Sustainability Research Experience For Undergraduates through University of Wisconsin-Stout last summer.


Dunn County News editor

Barbara Lyon is the editor of The Dunn County News in Menomonie, WI.

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