Estimating the value of watershed services following forest restoration

Mueller, J.M. et al. | Water Resources Research | 2013 | Peer Reviewed | Original research |


Declining forest health, climate change, and development threaten the sustainability of water supplies in the western United States. While forest restoration may buffer threats to watershed services, funding shortfalls for landscape-scale restoration efforts limit management action. The hydrologic response and reduction in risk to watersheds following forest restoration treatments could create significant nonmarket benefits for downstream water users. Historic experimental watershed studies indicate a significant and positive response from forest thinning by a reallocation of water from evapotranspiration to surface-water yield. In this study, we estimate the willingness to pay (WTP) for improved watershed services for one group of downstream users, irrigators, following forest restoration activities. We find a positive and statistically significant WTP within our sample of $183.50 per household, at an aggregated benefit of more than $400,000 annually for 2181 irrigators. Our benefit estimate provides evidence that downstream irrigators may be willing to invest in landscape-scale forest restoration to maintain watershed services.