Summary and Keywords
Watersheds are physical regions from which all arriving water flows to a single exit point. The shared hydrology means that other biophysical systems are linked, typically with upper-gradient regions influencing lower-gradient ones. This situation frames the challenge of managing economic and other uses of watersheds both in terms of individual activities and their influence on other connected processes and activities. Economics provides concepts and methods that help managers with decision making in the complex physical, biological, and institutional environment of a watershed. Among the important concepts and methods that help characterize watershed processes are externalities, impacts of economic activity that fall upon individuals not party to the activity, and third parties, individuals impacted without consent. Public goods and common pool resources describe categories of things or processes that by their nature are not amenable to regular market transactions. Their regulation requires special consideration and alternative approaches to markets. Benefit-cost analysis and valuation are related methods that provide a means to compare alternative uses of the same system. Each is based on the normative argument that the best use provides the greatest net benefits to society. And intergenerational equity is a value orientation that argues for preservation of watershed processes for the benefit of future generations. The need for effective watershed management methods pushed 20th-century economists to adapt their discipline to the complexity of watersheds, from which emerged subdisciplines of natural resource economics, environmental economics, and ecological economics. The field is still evolving with a growing interest in data gathering through land-based low-cost data collection systems and remote sensing, and in emerging data analysis techniques to improve management decisions.
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