This report describes many of the benefits and costs associated with snow and snowpack, with a focus on the Upper Colorado Basin (UCB). We explore some of the ecological and economic changes that can be expected from climate shifts, and discuss their significance throughout the UCB and beyond. We point to a few policy responses that are attempting to mitigate and adapt to the risks associated with decreasing snowpack and water flows.
The Columbia River Basin is an abundant watershed, supporting immense forests, the largest salmon runs in the world, and diverse and abundant wildlife. These natural resources benefit our region with sustainable food, jobs, recreation, clean water, and a healthier environment, among many others. Yet, these natural resources have been seriously degraded by dams and other developments in the basin. When assets, whether built or natural, are not managed sustainably, economic loss occurs.
The Value of Natural Capital in the Columbia River Basin report shows the immense economic value of the Columbia River Basin’s natural assets and provides clear evidence of the increased value that can be gained by addressing ecosystem-based function in the Columbia River Basin river management.
The Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority (OSA) requested this comprehensive cost analysis of the September 2016 Loma Fire in Santa Clara County to better understand the challenge and to begin a discussion about changes in policy and stewardship that would reduce the scale and cost of future wildfire events.
The abundant natural capital of the watershed of San Juan Bay Estuary is a critical part of the regional ecosystem and economy. The wetlands and mangroves of the coastline around the city of San Juan support rich biodiversity, erosion control, and moderate flood events. This first-ever Ecosystem Services Valuation of the watershed finds that its natural capital contributes $14 million to $61 million in ecosystem service benefits each year, around 33 percent of which are provided within San Juan’s municipal jurisdiction. Over a 100 year period at a three percent discount rate, this amounts to an annual asset value of between $447 million and $1.9 billion. With stewardship to maintain the health and function of that natural capital, this annual economic contribution can continue in perpetuity.
This report explores the value of floodplains and attempts to explain how the nation's rivers and floodplains have become physically disconnected, leading to loss of floodplain functions. With federal agencies now incorporating the value of natural infrastructure into federal planning and decision-making, there are opportunities as never before to examine and change the disincentives for floodplain conservation.
The 2012 Louisiana Coastal Master Plan proposes broad-scale, comprehensive action to address Louisiana's land loss crisis, including major sediment diversions of the Mississippi River. This analysis is the first of its kind to address the socioeconomic aspects of major sediment diversions in southeast Louisiana.
This handbook explores and explains the relationship between human economies and natural systems, and it provides an understanding of the historic disconnect between the environment and the economy. It introduces new tools and principles that recognize the economic importance of our planet's natural systems and provides mechanisms to foster the changes needed to preserve our planet's precious natural resources.
This study presents an economic assessment of the impacts and benefits of implementing a national marine sanctuary around St. George Island, Alaska. Both market and non-market impacts were assessed using the benefit transfer method and data on local markets. This study finds that implementing a national marine sanctuary around St. George Island may have substantial benefits, including: at least four full-time jobs, $200,000 in annual government spending to support a sanctuary office, $140,000 to $1 million in expenditures due to research grants, $55,000 to $240,000 in annual recreation expenditures, $22,000 to $44,000 in estimated subsistence harvest annually, and $2.8 billion to $3.3 billion in annual non-market ecosystem service benefits.
El Paso’s abundant natural capital is a critical part of the regional ecosystem and the economy. The shrublands surrounding the Franklin Mountains support rich biodiversity, capture water for the Hueco Bolson aquifer, and provide many other benefits directly to local residents, including increased property values and improved health via recreation. This first-ever ecosystem services valuation of El Paso’s natural capital finds that El Paso’s shrubland contributes $3.4 million to $6.7 million in ecosystem service benefits each year. When viewed as a natural capital asset that provides a flow of benefits over time, El Paso’s natural capital has an asset value between $107 million and $211 million over a 100-year lifespan and at a three percent discount rate. With sufficient stewardship to maintain the health and function of El Paso’s natural capital, this economic contribution will continue in perpetuity.
This study presents a first-ever ecosystem services valuation of the ecosystem services provided by Tucson, Arizona’s lower Sabino Creek. This analysis finds that lower Sabino Creek provides the local economy with $1.4 million to $2.1 million in ecosystem service benefits each year. When measured like an asset with a life-span of 100 years with a three percent discount rate, lower Sabino Creek has a net asset value between $46 million and $81 million. With sufficient stewardship to maintain the health and function of Sabino Creek, this economic contribution will continue in perpetuity.
This report presents a discussion of the source water watersheds for Little Rock, Arkansas, and its environs: Lake Winona and Lake Maumelle Watersheds. This report includes a description of each watershed’s current health, threats to water quality, and the ecosystem services benefits that the watersheds provide. In addition, we provide estimates for the economic value of these natural capital assets. By shedding light on the importance of these watersheds to the economic health of the region, these estimates provide the foundation for better-informed decisions regarding watershed management activities.
Water utilities depend on natural capital such as watersheds, forests, and river systems as a vital component of their drinking water infrastructure. A growing number of utilities have begun to include natural capital surcharges in their rates structures. This factsheet outlines examples that show how natural capital surcharges provide utilities with a useful communication and investment tool. This document updates the original factsheet, "Communicating and Investing in Natural Capital Using Water Rates, 2012".
This benefit-cost analysis investigated Southeast Washington's Lower Snake River dams, modeling the regional economic benefits in the form of outdoor recreation expenditures that are expected to accompany a free-flowing river. The dams yield a benefit-cost ration of only 0.15, but a free-flowing Lower Snake River may yield a ratio of over 4.3. In a dam breach scenario, outdoor recreation could generate as much as $500 million in consumer expenditures in the first few years alone.
Few public land managers use strategic tools to plan investments and ensure optimal decisions. Washington State Parks, recognizing the power of being strategic rather than opportunistic in decision making, engaged Earth Economics to create a tool that quantifies the social, environmental, and economic benefits of each state park in Washington State. The tool also lays a foundation for predicting hot spots for future acquisitions.
Community assets such as trails, parks and public open space provide numerous economic and social benefits, from improved health and reduced medical expenses to purchases at local businesses and job creation. Without access to trails, parks and open space, these benefits would be greatly diminished. This report summarizes the return on investment for community assets in the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Basin of south-central Alaska, including social (recreation, tourism, human health, public safety, subsistence, culture, and history) and economic (business, tax revenues, taxpayer savings) benefits.
This report demonstrates the value of Washington State Parks in connecting Washingtonians to outdoor recreation opportunities. State parks are responsible for $1.5 billion in consumer expenditures and serve as a vehicle for rural development as wealth transfers from urban to rural areas. State parks generate at least $64 million in state sales tax that directly benefits the Washington general fund. Every year, land conserved by the State Parks system also provides the state between $500 million and $1.2 billion in ecosystem services that include water quality improvements, native species habitat, and aesthetic values.
The St. Louis River in northeastern Minnesota provides tremendous economic benefits to the stakeholders within its watershed. Its water and land are natural capital assets that produce ecosystem service benefits that include clean air and water, wildlife habitat, and natural food sources. Every year, the watershed's ecosystem services provide $5 billion to $14 billion in economic benefits. Despite mining activity in the river's headwaters and the Area of Concern at the river's mouth, the St. Louis River still provides significant economic inputs for the regional economy.
In collaboration with the USFS, Earth Economics presents a measurable framework for ecosystem goods and services, cultural services, and human well-being concepts. Cultural services often go unrecognized in land management and decision making for development plans, and thus risk degradation and loss. This report offers an approach to measure ecosystem services alongside cultural, social, and health benefits across the urban to rural gradient. The Green-Duwamish Watershed is highlighted to represent diverse land-use cases, from rural,indigenous groups to South Seattle's urban city dwellers.
This report presents the results of the first ever open space valuation of Western Washington’s Central Puget Sound region, including King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. Ten open space services, comparable with ecosystem services, are valued for each of 15 land cover types. These services represent a substantial and critical component of the regional economy, contributing $11.4 to $25.2 billion per year.
This report evaluates the effect that calculating environmental benefits could have in two flood and stormwater mitigation case studies in Wisconsin: the first, a partially-funded property acquisition project in Jefferson County; the second, a stormwater mitigation project in the City of Portage. Integrating environmental benefits into hazard planning will enable local and state floodplain and emergency management professionals and stakeholder groups to use FEMA policy updates on benefit-cost analyses to fund innovative flood-risk reduction projects.
This report explores the importance of outdoor recreation in Whatcom County. The County's recreation-related businesses form an important hub of regional economic activity and contribute to the local tax base. This report includes an economic contribution analysis of outdoor recreation and further illustrates the value of Whatcom County's recreational lands through an ecosystem services valuation.
This report presents an independent environmental and social benchmarking analysis of Nautilus Minerals’ proposed deep seabed mining project. The primary goal of the analysis was to measure the environmental and social impacts of the Solwara 1 project in comparison with three terrestrial mines.
This report evaluates the costs and benefits of floodplain protection in Waterbury, Vermont and Willsboro, New York in the Lake Champlain Basin, U.S.A. The primary elements of the project are ecosystem services valuation, buildout/conservation analysis, hydrologic calculations of current existing peak flows and predicted future peak flows, hydraulic modeling of floodplains, building damage simulations due to flooding, and cost-benefit accounting to determine the best form of flood risk reduction for each community. The most economically sound flood risk mitigation plans were found in towns in which damage reductions were high, the loss of tax revenue was low, the cost of mitigation activity was low, and the ecosystem service value was high.
The natural capital in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, provides a robust flow of essential economic goods and services benefits, including food, water, clean air, natural beauty, climatic stability, storm and flood protection, and recreation. Agricultural lands make up over 65% of the ecosystems in Lancaster County, which is the first county in the nation to reach 100,000 acres of preserved farmland. This analysis identified the natural capital from farmland preservation at $676 million in annual economic benefits. If treated like an asset, Lancaster County ecosystems value at $17.5 billion.
This report highlights the Long Island Sound Basin’s natural capital and provides an update to the 1992 Altobello valuation study. Fourteen ecosystem services across nine land cover types were valued, and total ecosystem services flows within the Basin were found to reach at least $17 billion to $37 billion every year. This report also includes recommendations to fill key gaps in primary valuation studies for Long Island Sound and to conduct assessments on the return on investment.
From hikes in the desert to a ski run down a mountain side, Washington State residents have numerous choices for outdoor recreation. These rich options also provide many families and businesses with jobs and revenue. This study quantified the contribution of outdoor recreation to Washington State's economy, finding that the outdoor recreation industry contributes $21.6 billion annually. This report was well-received and leveraged across the state, influencing the appointment of Washington State's first director of outdoor initiatives.
This ecosystem services valuation was the first comprehensive economic analysis of the entire Colorado River Basin, a 249,000 square mile region spanning across mountains, plateaus, and low-lying valleys of the American Southwest. Colorado River Basin ecosystems provide a suite of ecosystem services that includes water supply, flood risk reduction, and recreation. The analysis highlighted the importance of engaging water utilities stakeholders, as the Basin's ecosystems provide between $56.5 billion and $466.5 billion in economic benefits every year.
This report presents a return on investment analysis of the North Wind’s Weir Restoration project. The environmental benefits provided by the restored transition zone of the lower Duwamish River are considered over time. The restoration, although a small area, will provide long-term benefits, particularly for salmon habitat. The results justified investment in the North Wind's Weir restoration project, and the report outcomes have been featured in numerouspresentations to federal partners, namely HUD and FEMA, in support of natural capital investment.
This analysis quantified the economic, environmental, and social impacts of the William A. Grant Water & Environmental Center (WEC) at Walla Walla Community College. Since opening in 2007, the WEC has had an $88 million economic and environmental impact, and shows a $3 return for every $1 invested. This study helped secure continued government funding for the Center.
This report examines the growing risks and rising costs of climate change across the United States. Hurricanes, floods, and extreme weather events have high human and financial tolls. This report calls for increased efficiency and effectiveness in natural hazard management through proactive investments and a focus on green infrastructure for risk reduction. The report also identifies seven areas of federal and state law in need of improvement.
To view a full list of Earth Economics' publications since 1999, please visit our Publications Archive.