Economic valuation of environmental services sustained by water flows in the Yaqui River Delta

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We attempted to estimate the economic value of environmental services provided by restored instream flows in the water-scarce Yaqui River Delta in Mexico. The Yaqui River begins near the U.S.-Mexico border and continues for 400 km before reaching the Oviachic dam, but has not reached the nearby Gulf of California for decades due to diversions for irrigation. These diversions have degraded the riparian ecosystem, coastal wetlands, and estuaries. Environmental services provided by restored flows in the Yaqui River would include healthy riverside vegetation, wetlands and estuaries, fish and wildlife habitats, non-use values, and recreation. A contingent valuation survey in 40 neighborhoods in the most populated Delta city, Ciudad Obregon, was administered to estimate non-market values of instream uses. Respondents were given a current and hypothetical Delta scenario (the latter assumed restored water flows in the River) and asked a willingness-to-pay (WTP) question regarding purchasing water for environmental flows through higher water bills. Results from 148 in-person interviews indicated that households would pay an average of 73 pesos monthly. WTP was found related to key variables suggested by economic theory and contingent valuation studies elsewhere: income, educational level, number of children in the household, and initial bid amount. These results will allow decision makers to compare the benefits generated by different water uses, including environmental services, and to manage scarce water resources under a long-term sustainable approach. © 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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Ecological Economics