Cost and Benefits of Drinking Water Treatment

Robert M. Clark
James A. Goodrich
John C. Ireland

DOI: 10.2190/QV81-1QU6-QNHJ-T95G


As inflationary and regulatory pressures increase and regulated industries and the public question the usefulness of investing in environmental control measures, a need to relate environmental control costs to their benefits is more apparent. This article develops a framework for evaluating the costs and benefits of environmental control and preventive public health practices and asks the policy question: How do we achieve the best mix of protection against infectious disease and toxic chemicals in drinking water? In an attempt to answer this question, the costs and benefits of chlorination and filtration are analyzed retrospectively, and the results of this analysis extended to include a newer technology, granular activated carbon (GAC) filtration. Both a net benefit and cost per life saved approach is used in the analysis. The issue of uncertainty in estimating benefits and the resulting impact on the selection of an optimal strategy is examined. Net benefits associated with chlorination and filtration are shown to be more than adequate for installation of these technologies; with GAC technology, the relative benefits drop. The best cost benefit relationship for GAC technology results when GAC replaces sand in the filtration scheme. Benefits tend to increase with increasing scale of service.

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