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Ecosystem Service Valuation of the Colorado River Basin: A Literature Review and Assessment of the Total Economic Value of the Colorado River Basin

Kaval, Dr. Pamela

The ecosystem services within the Colorado River Basin (CRB) provide us with food, erosion control, natural disturbance regulation and a variety of recreation activities. When considering all ecosystem service values, instead of solely focusing on the economic value of the conservation use of water, a more complete perspective is obtained. This literature review focused on obtaining a baseline for the knowledge available specific to the value of ecosystem services in the CRB, as well as determining where there is a lack in ecosystem service information. This baseline value can be applied in the determination of how ecosystem values would change if there was a decrease, or increase, in water flow to obtain a more complete understanding of the ecosystem service value of the CRB.

This study focused on locating recreation, food production, water purification, erosion control and natural disturbance regulation ecosystem service valuation-related publications. In total, 516 valuation observations from 119 studies were recorded in a database. While values for all ecosystem services of interest were located, not all studies were CRB specific. Instead, many of the studies collected information in reference to entire states located in the watershed. As such, these valuation observations are relevant to the watershed, but not watershed specific.

Ecosystem services were divided into four categories: information, production, regulation and habitat. Information services include functions that contribute to human health, such as recreation, education and aesthetic experiences. Production functions are those functions that result in an output of living biomass, such as raw materials and food. Regulating services provide people with benefits, such as flood regulation and detoxification, from the regulation of ecosystem processes. Habitat refers to those functions that provide reproduction habitat and refuge to wild animals and plants. Results based on these four categories illustrate that the ecosystem service value of the CRB is significant and is likely in the tens of billions of dollars.