Tucson, Arizona’s Sabino Creek is a critical part of the regional ecosystem and economy. The creek and larger watershed provide water and habitat that supports rich biodiversity, water to recharge the shallow groundwater aquifer, and many other ecosystem benefits from carbon sequestration to erosion control and moderation of flood events. Sabino Creek also provides many direct benefits to local residents, including increased property values and improved health via recreation. All of these benefits are called ecosystem services, and they represent significant long-term contributions to the local economy. This is the first study to estimate the dollar value associated with these critical ecosystem services that lower Sabino Creek provides.
Across the country, planners and policy makers are starting to include the value of natural capital assets (watersheds, forests, grasslands) and ecosystem services in their analyses. Though the techniques to identify, quantify, and monetize these contributions are still evolving, the values available today can immediately be used to gain a better understanding of the symbiotic relationship between a healthy environment, a resilient economy, and a thriving community. Including these values yields a more complete and accurate understanding of a restoration or stewardship project or policy and ultimately fosters more practical and, often, more cost-effective outcomes.
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. Enhancements including expanding the extent and health of the riparian forest or increased duration of surface flow will increase the value of ecosystem benefits provided each year by the system. Sabino Creek can also be viewed as a natural capital asset that provides a flow of benefits over time, similar to a building or bridge. 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. These are highly conservative estimates that will grow as new data and economic methods are developed.
Photo Credit: Watershed Management Group