Assessing impacts of payments for watershed services on sustainability in coupled human and natural systems

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© 2015 The Author(s). Payments for watershed services (PWS) as a policy tool for enhancing water quality and supply have gained momentum in recent years, but their ability to lead to sustainable watershed outcomes is uncertain. Consequently, the demand for effective monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of PWS impacts on coupled human and natural systems (CHANS) and their implications for watershed sustainability (WS) is increasing. The theoretical foundations and practical applications of WS frameworks, which integrate biophysical and socioeconomic indicators to assess progress toward WS goals, have been extensively explored but rarely applied to PWS. We develop the PWS-WS framework as an approach for guiding indicator selection to improve knowledge about the complex drivers, interactions, and feedback between PWS and CHANS. A review of the PWS and WS literatures provides a basis for comparing and contrasting indicators. Using two case studies, we illustrate how applying the PWS-WS framework using a place-based, contextualized approach enhances potential for sustainable watershed outcomes.

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