As a follow up to investigations into the economic value of waterfront properties in Oneida and Vilas Counties, researchers from UW-Eau Claire, researched the link between water clarity and the sale prices of waterfront homes. This research project was proposed by the Vilas County Land & Water Conservation Dept. and the Oneida and Vilas County Lakes and Rivers Associations, and funded by grants from the Lumberjack RC&D and the UWEC Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.
Water clarity is an objective measurement of the depth at which a Secchi disk can still be seen. Water clarity can indicate water quality issues such as a high nutrient load or tannin stained water. The value of improving water clarity will depend on the natural environment of the lake.
Using home sales data from Zillow.com and Secchi data for 60 area lakes researchers found that home prices rose as water clarity improved. Depending on the lake, an improvement of water clarity by about 3 feet would increase average home sales prices by $8,000 to $32,000 dollars.
On extremely clear lakes, an increase in water clarity would not add much more value. However, on a lake of limited clarity, improving Secchi results from 3 to 6 feet, has a significant impact on sales price. One follow up questions is whether the reverse holds true for monetary values: if water clarity diminishes does the sales price decline by the same amount? According to Dr. Thomas Kemp, this is a logarithmic relationship – so the values are similar but change more dramatically for a 6 foot change in Secchi depth than for a 3 foot change.
Past analysis of tax data shows that 75% of Vilas County’s property tax revenue and 61% of Oneida County’s property tax revenue comes from waterfront property. If property values can be affected by changes in water clarity, those changes can affect local government and school spending. More reasons to ensure that we play our parts in protecting and improving the water clarity of our lakes.
Copies of the water clarity study are available from the Vilas and Oneida County Land & Water Conservation Departments, the Oneida and Vilas County Lakes and Rivers Associations, the Walter E Olson Memorial Library in Eagle River, the Rhinelander District Library, Lumberjack RC&D and the Lac du Flambeau Natural Resources.
Quita Sheehan, Conservation Specialist, Vilas County Land & Water Conservation Department