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Thomas C. Brown


240 West Prospect Road
Fort Collins, CO 80526-2098
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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.

Research Interests

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.

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.

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


    Maas, Alexander; Goemans, Christopher; Manning, Dale; Kroll, Stephan; Brown, Thomas C., 2017. Dilemmas, coordination and defection: How uncertain tipping points induce common pool resource destruction
    Salo, Jessica A.; Theobald, David M.; Brown, Thomas C., 2016. Evaluation of methods for delineating riparian zones in a semi-arid montane watershed
    Brown, Thomas C.; Morrison, Mark D.; Benfield, Jacob A.; Rainbolt, Gretchen Nurse; Bell, Paul A., 2015. Exchange asymmetry in experimental settings
    Litschert, S. E.; Theobald, D. M.; Brown, Thomas C., 2014. Effects of climate change and wildfire on soil loss in the Southern Rockies Ecoregion
    Kingsley, David C.; Brown, Thomas C., 2014. Endogenous and costly institutional deterrence
    Sturges, Frank; Joyce, Linda A.; Brown, Thomas C.; Flather, Curtis H.; Mockrin, Miranda H.; Reeves, Matt C., 2013. Coming to a landscape near you: Natural resource changes in the Interior West
    Brown, Thomas C.; Foti, Romano; Ramirez, Jorge, 2012. Water resources (Chapter 12)
    Donovan, Geoffrey H.; Brown, Thomas C.; Dale, Lisa, 2008. Chapter 16: Incentives and wildfire management in the United States
    Donovan, Geoffrey H.; Brown, Thomas C., 2008. Estimating the avoided fuel-reatment costs of wildfire
    Donovan, Geoffrey H.; Brown, Thomas C.; Dale, Lisa, 2008. Incentives and wildfire management in the United States
    Donovan, Geoffrey H.; Brown, Thomas C., 2007. Be careful what you wish for: The legacy of Smokey Bear
    Brown, Thomas C.; Peterson, George L.; Brodersen, R. Marc; Ford, Valerie; Bell, Paul A., 2005. The judged seriousness of an environmental loss is a matter of what caused it
    Donovan, Geoffrey H.; Brown, Thomas C., 2005. Wildfire management in the U.S. Forest Service: a brief history.
    Brown, Thomas C.; Peterson, George L., 2003. Multiple good valuation [Chapter 7]
    Champ, Patricia A.; Flores, Nicholas E.; Brown, Thomas C.; Chivers, James, 2002. Contingent valuation and incentives
    Brown, Thomas C.; Nannini, Dawn; Gorter, Robert B.; Bell, Paul A.; Peterson, George L., 2002. Judged seriousness of environmental losses: reliability and cause of loss
    Chuenpagdee, Ratana; Knetsch, Jack L.; Brown, Thomas C., 2001. Environmental damage schedules: community judgments of importance and assessments of losses
    Loomis, John B.; Peterson, George; Champ, Patricia A.; Brown, Thomas C.; Lucero, Beatrice, 1998. Paired comparison estimates of willingness to accept versus contingent valuation estimates of willingness to pay
    Champ, Patricia A.; Bishop, Richard C.; Brown, Thomas C.; McCollum, Daniel W., 1997. Using donation mechanisms to value nonuse benefits from public goods
    Gregory, Robin; Brown, Thomas C.; Knetsch, Jack L., 1996. Valuing risks to the environment
    Brown, Thomas C.; Champ, Patricia A.; Bishop, Richard C.; McCollum, Daniel W., 1996. Which response format reveals the truth about donations to a public good?
    Gregory, Robin; Lichtenstein, Sarah; Brown, Thomas C.; Peterson, George L.; Slouic, Paul, 1995. How precise are monetary representations of environmental improvements?
    Brown, Thomas C.; Peterson, George L.; Tonn, Bruce E., 1995. The values jury to aid natural resource decisions
    Duffield, John W.; Brown, Thomas C.; Allen, Stewart D., 1994. Economic value of instream flow in Montana's Big Hole and Bitterroot Rivers
    Brown, Thomas C.; Daniel, Terry C.; Schroeder, Herbert W.; Brink, Glen E., 1990. An analysis of ratings: a guide to RMRATE
    Brown, Thomas C.; Harding, Benjamin L.; Payton, Elizabeth A., 1990. Marginal economic value of streamflow: A case study for the Colorado River Basin
    Brown, Thomas C.; Daniel, Terry C., 1990. Scaling of ratings: concepts and methods
    Johnson, Craig W.; Brown, Thomas C.; Timmons, Michael L., 1985. Esthetics and landscaping
    Research to love graphic
    A new paper 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 potential consequences of not solving the problem are framed appropriately.
    Storm near Elko, Nevada
    Fresh water begins as precipitation falling on the land and fresh waters. Water naturally evaporates from the land or vegetation, percolates down to groundwater aquifers, or flows toward the sea via rivers and streams. Water that evaporates is unavailable for use until it falls again elsewhere as precipitation. What remains is available for use by humans and other species and in a broad sense is our fresh water supply.
    Given the continuing concern over nonpoint-source pollution, Rocky Mountain Research Station scientists 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.
    Water that evaporates is unavailable for use until it falls again elsewhere as precipitation. What remains is available for use by humans and other species, and in a broad sense is our fresh water supply (until it reaches the sea). RMRS researchers 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.
    Introduced nearly 150 years ago, the method of paired comparison is perhaps the most straightforward way of presenting items for comparative judgment. In the following papers we report on applications of the method to evaluate environmental losses and to value public goods.
    A damage schedule is a predetermined set of sanctions, restrictions, and damage payments tied to an ordered set of potential resource losses. The ordering of the schedule is based on community judgments of the relative importance of the potential losses.
    The studies reported in the following papers were performed to help improve stated preference methods for estimating the values of public goods.
    This research aims to summarize the state of knowledge regarding the effects of forest management on water quality and the value to society of maintaining high quality runoff from forest lands. Economic costs and benefits of water-quality control was also explored.
    This project seeks to estimate the volumes of water that annually become available on forests (and other land covers) in the U.S. Available water volume (water supply) is being estimated, at the regional scale, as precipitation minus evapotranspiration (ET).
    The Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 requires the Forest Service to periodically assess anticipated resource supply and demand conditions of the nation's renewable resources. This project focuses on fresh water demand.
    As more water has been diverted from rivers and streams to serve our farms and growing cities and towns, instream flows have diminished. To reach a good balance in the allocation of water between instream and offstream uses, we need a better understanding of the roles, uses, and values of instream flow, and of the laws and regulations that affect water allocation. This project aims to enhance that understanding.
    This project aims to learn more about water markets and their water prices as a means to better understand the value of water leaving the public lands.
    We discuss changes to budget policy that would help to both contain suppression costs and recognize the natural place of wildfire in many forest ecosystems.
    The 2010 Resources Planning Act (RPA) Water Assessment evaluates the vulnerability of the United States water supply to shortage. The RPA Assessment is produced every 10 years in response to the Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974. Reports from the 2010 Assessment are now being released.