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The New "Restoration Economy" a Boon for Jobseekers and the Environment

Kelly Coplin

Posted October 9, 2012

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The news this past week has been plastered with encouraging headlines regarding the recent September, and revised July and August job growth numbers. Jobless rate falls to 7.8%, lowest since January 2009! Jobless rate hits 44-month low! 114K jobs added in Sept.; July, Aug. updates help unemployment rate! There’s an economic movement underfoot that will continue to support these much-revered statistics and the growth of good jobs – the “restoration economy.” Like the green energy economy, the restoration economy holds the promise of benefiting both consumers and the consumed (that is, the earth). National Geographic’s Water Currents guest blogger, Cathy Kellon of Ecotrust, recently reported about the strength of the restoration economy in her home state of Oregon, and the promise of the restoration economy nationwide.

As Ms. Kellon reports, environmental restoration is incredibly effective at stimulating economic growth and creating jobs. Investing in habitat restoration creates more jobs than comparable investments in other sectors of our economy – 19-24 jobs per $1 million of investment, as opposed to seven jobs per million dollars invested in coal, and five jobs per million dollars invested in natural gas.Average Jobs per $1 Million Investment.png

Graph from Ecotrust factsheet: The Restoration Economy

Furthermore, you can rest assured that restoration jobs can’t be outsourced, and restoration dollars are local dollars. Research conducted in 2006 at the University of Oregon found that an average of $0.80 of every $1.00 spent on a restoration project stays in the county where the project is located, and $0.90 stays in the state.

This is a big deal, particularly when you consider the multiplier effect, in which every dollar spent on salaries or supplies for a restoration project creates additional spending and economic activity. According to Ecotrust, in Oregon, $54.9 million invested in restoration work has generated $97.3 - $126.1 million in economic output. By this token, residents of the San Joaquin Valley should be incredibly excited about the estimated $792.8 million of federal and state agency funds slated to be spent on upcoming San Joaquin River Restoration Program projects. The money spent on channel and structural improvements, restoration flows, fish reintroduction, and water management, is sure to inject much-needed stimulus into the San Joaquin Valley – a region suffering from chronic unemployment and a high portion of the population living below the poverty line. In fact, Dr. Shawn Kantor of U.C. Merced conservatively estimates that the Restoration Program will generate over 11,000 jobs in the coming years.

This is a non-trivial number, particularly since many of these jobs are associated with improvements in quality of life in the region. Enhanced recreational opportunities, research prospects for UC Merced researchers and students, and at least $45 million of private grant funding for complementary, private restoration work will all augment the jobs associated with implementation of projects and the induced service jobs they support.  Not to mention the job and economic benefits associated with a healthy salmon fishery that will flow from restoring the upper San Joaquin River’s extirpated salmon runs.

But simply listing the number and economic value of these jobs doesn’t fully capture the benefits of a restored river. Yes, San Joaquin River restoration will invigorate local economies, but the restoration effort isn’t being undertaken because it will create jobs and inject money into the Valley. Restoration is being undertaken to restore a living river for all to enjoy that includes clean water and healthy runs of  salmon. It’s hard, if not impossible, to put a price tag on the value of restoration in this sense. The San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement was the result of long-fought litigation alleging that the operation of Friant Dam violated California Fish and Game Code Section 5937, which requires dams to release sufficient water to keep fish in good condition below the dam. Rectifying that violation – and others – is critically important from an environmental (and legal) perspective.  

Ultimately, the benefits of a healthy, flowing river for all to enjoy are priceless.  But the creation of 11,000 jobs along the way in a region still suffering deeply from the housing crash and global recession is a tangible and important element of this large-scale restoration project.  I think we can all agree that is a good thing.

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Comments (Add yours)

EHOct 9 2012 05:50 PM

Thanks for pointing me to that report.

XYZ 123Oct 14 2012 07:25 PM

Nrdc should be more forthright and transparent about the study indicating that 11,000 new jobs will be created. First, it assumes all the money needed for restoration will be appropriated by a Congress that is struggling to fund many other high priority projects in a depressed economy. Not likely in the near future. Second, many jobs will be government and consulting jobs located outside of the SJR basin. Third, other of the jobs will be temporary construction jobs, that pay relatively well but may not be held by valley workers, or will be far lower paying restoration jobs, ie, creating new riparian habitat, that may employ locals on a temporary basis.
Nrdc would due well to not create false expectations.

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