Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

Benefit-cost analysis of crap in my surf

Posted by Daniel Hall on September 25, 2007

A California town is trying to clean up the water at Rincon Point, out near my old graduate school stomping grounds. What I found interesting about the article was the implied recreational value — and elasticity of demand — among surfers for use of one of the best point breaks in the country:

In Southern California, it is common practice for people to stay out of the water for days after rain because of runoff pollution. But surfers often opt to take their chances in places like Rincon Point and Malibu, which has problems similar to Rincon Point’s. …
Wayne Babcock, a cofounder of Clean Up Rincon Effluent, said that the beach at Rincon Point was “notorious” for making surfers sick and that the homeowners should be forced to stop using septic tanks. When asked why they continue surfing here, Mr. Babcock and other surfers waxed poetic. “You don’t have a choice,” Mr. Babcock said. “It’s Rincon. There’s nothing like it.”

You don’t have a choice.” I never really was able to get into surfing, but this sounds like a pretty high use value to me. Of course, given the median income of the surfers I knew, it is perhaps reasonable to question an effectively infinite stated use value.

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