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Thomas C. Brown

Human Dimensions
240 West Prospect Road
Fort Collins, CO 80526-2098
United States
Current Research
  1. Assessment of risk of water quality impairment in the over 15,000 fifth-level watersheds of the contiguous 48 states.
  2. Estimates future water demand in the coterminous US, including specification of the effect of climate change on water demand.
  3. Vulnerability of future US water supply to shortage, based on a comparison of supply and demand in light of climate change.
  4. The effect of climate change on wildfire extent and sediment yield in the Southern Rockies Ecosystem.
  5. Public perception of the relative importance of mitigation versus adaptation in responding to expected climate change.
Past Research
  1. An authored book Instream Flow Protection: Seeking a Balance in Western Water Use on the law, policy, history, and economics of water management in the Western United States.
  2. A co-edited book A Primer on Nonmarket Valuation on the various methods now used to estimate the economic value of ecosystem goods and services.
  3. Estimates of the amount of the US water supply that originates from the national forests, from forests in general, and within each major watershed.
  4. Development and application of the method of paired comparison for use in assessing public values and preferences for ecosystem goods and services.
Research Interest
Research objectives include:
  1. Improving the methodology for economic valuation of natural resources,
  2. Estimating water supply and demand at large spatial scales,
  3. Projecting the effect of climate change and population growth on future water shortages,
  4. Evaluating adaptations to impending water shortages,
  5. Understanding the relation of land and water management to downstream water quality.
Why This Research Is Important

Climate change is very likely to both increase water demand and decrease water supply. This combination of effects, along with the impact of human population increase on water demand, will increase the vulnerability of water supplies to shortage, and will also lead to decreases in instream flow available to aquatic species and for other instream uses. These changes will not occur uniformly across the landscape; rather, some areas will be affected much more heavily than others. Although considerable uncertainty remains about the exact degree of change that will occur, it is critical for policy makers and water resource planners to have the best available site-specific estimates of the extent to which these changes are likely to occur. This effort aims to provide such estimates within a probabilistic framework using methods consistently applied across the US.Water quality is a continuing national concern. Although point sources of pollution are largely contained pursuant to the Water Quality Act, nonpoint sources of water pollution remain mainly uncontrolled and policy makers continue to consider ways to reduce nonpoint sources. This research seeks to inform the policy formation process by providing a fine-scale national picture of the relative risks of water quality impairment from nonpoint sources, indicating where the greatest risks are faced.

  • American University, Washington, DC, B.A., Economics, 1968
  • University of Arizona, M.S., Water Management, 1973
  • University of Arizona, Ph.D., Economics, 1983
Featured Publications
Other Publications
Research Highlights

Forest Service Scientists Estimate Annual Water Supply of the Contiguous U.S.

Year: 2016
Forest Service scientists estimated water supply across the contiguous 48 states for the period 1981-2010. Political, administrative, and land cover boundaries were mapped over the gridded water supply estimates to indicate the amount of water that becomes available in respective land areas. These w...

Choices in the face of uncertainty: Study points to thresholds and framing as major influencing factors

Year: 2017
This research, published in the journal Climatic Change, highlights human incentives for positive change in uncertain situations. The research shows that humans will take collective action to address a common problem if the problem, the amount of action needed to address the problem, and the potenti...

A close comparison of the condition of watersheds on our National Forests

Year: 2011
Given the continuing concern over nonpoint-source pollution, researchers sought to understand how the risk of water quality impairment from nonpoint sources varies across the nearly 3,700 fifth-level watersheds in the U.S. containing lands of the National Forest System (NFS).

Mean Annual Water Supply for the Contiguous U.S. Updated

Year: 2015
This study estimated water supply across the contiguous 48 states for the period 1981-2010. Political, administrative, and land cover boundaries were mapped over the gridded water supply estimates to indicate the amount of water available in respective land areas. The study shows that forests provid...