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Achilleas Vassilopoulos and Phoebe Koundouri
Water accounts for more than 70% of Earth’s surface, making marine ecosystems the largest and most important ecosystems of the planet. However, the fact that a large part of these ecosystems and their potential contribution to humans remains unexplored has rendered them unattractive for valuation exercises. On the contrary, coastal zones, , being the interface between the land, the sea, and human activities competing for space and resources, have been extensively studied with the objective of marine ecosystem services valuation. Examples of marine and coastal ecosystems are open oceans, coral reefs, deep seas, hydrothermal vents, abyssal plains, wetlands, rocky and sandy shores, mangroves, kelp forests, estuaries, salt marshes, and mudflats. Although there are arguments that no classification can capture the ways in which ecosystems contribute to human well-being and support human life, very often policymakers have to decide upon alternative uses of such natural environments. Should a given wetland be preserved or converted to agricultural land? Should a mangrove be designated within the protected areas system or be used for shrimp farming? To answer these questions, one needs first to establish the philosophical basis of value within the ecosystems framework. To this end, two vastly different approaches have been proposed. On the one hand, the nonutilitarian (biocentric) approach relies on the notion of intrinsic value attached to the mere existence of a natural resource, independent of whether humans derive utility from its use (if any) or preservation. Albeit useful in philosophical terms, this approach is still far from providing unambiguous and generally accepted inputs to the tangible problem of ecosystem valuation. The utilitarian (anthropocentric) perspective, on the other hand, assumes that natural environments have value to the extent that humans derive utility from placing such value. According to the total economic value (TEV) approach, this value can be divided into “use” and “nonuse.” Use values involve some interaction with the resource, either directly or indirectly, while nonuse values are derived simply from the knowledge that natural resources and aspects of the natural environment are maintained. Existence and altruistic values fall within this latter category.
Not surprisingly, economists have long revealed a strong preference for the utilitarian approach. As a result, the valuation of marine ecosystems requires that we understand the ecosystem services they deliver and then attach a value to the services. But what tools are available to economists when valuing marine ecosystems? For the most part, ecosystem services are not traded in formal markets and thus actual prices are usually not available. Valuation techniques essentially seek different ways to estimate measures like Willingness To Pay (WTP), Willingness To Accept (WTA), or expenditures and costs. The techniques used for the valuation of ecosystem services can be divided into three main families: market-based, revealed preference, and stated preference. Finally, value-transfer methods are also used when estimates of value are available in similar contexts. All these methods have advantages and disadvantages, with different methods being suitable for different situations. Hence, extra caution is required during the design and implementation of valuation attempts.
Different ecosystem values of the Amazon rainforest are surveyed in economic terms. Spatial rainforest valuation is crucial for good forest management, such as where to put the most effort to stop illegal logging and forest fires, and which areas to designate as new nationally protected areas. Three classes of economic value are identified, according to who does the valuation: values accruing to the local and regional populations (of South America); carbon values (which are global); and other global (noncarbon) values. Only the first two classes are discussed. Three types of value are separated according to ecosystem service delivered from the rainforest: provisioning services; supporting and regulating services; and cultural and other human services. Net values of provisioning services, including reduced impact logging and various non-timber forest products, are well documented for the entire Brazilian Amazon at a spatially detailed scale and amount to at least $20–50/ha/year. Less-detailed information exists about values of fish, game, and bioprospecting from the Amazon, although their total values can be shown to be sizable. Many supporting and regulating services are harder to value economically, in particular climate regulation and watershed and erosion protection. Impacts of changed rainfall when Amazon rainforest is lost have been valued at detailed scale, but with relative model values of $10–20/ha/year. Carbon values are much larger, at a carbon price of $30/ton CO2, around $14,000/ha as capitalized value. The average per-hectare value of tourism and the health benefits from having the Amazon forest are low, and such values cannot easily be pinned down to individual areas of the Amazon. Finally, the biodiversity values of the Amazon, as accruing to the local and regional population, seem to be small based on recent stated-preference work in Brazil. Most of the values related to biodiversity are likely to be global and may. in principle, be very large, but the global components are not valued here. The concept of value is discussed, and a marginal valuation concept (practically useful for policy) is favored as opposed to an average or total valuation. Marginal value can be below average value (as is likely for biodiversity and tourism), but can also in some contexts be higher. This can occur where losing forest at a local scale increases the prevalence of forest fires and where it increases forest dryness, leading to a multiplier process whereby more forest is lost. While strides have recently been made to improve rainforest valuation at both micro- and macroscales, much work still remains.
Alexandra Dehnhardt, Kati Häfner, Anna-Marie Blankenbach, and Jürgen Meyerhoff
All types of wetlands around the world are heavily threatened. According to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, they comprise “areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish, or salt.” While they are estimated still to cover 1,280 million hectares worldwide, large shares of wetlands were destroyed during the 20th century, mainly as a result of land use changes. According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA), this applies above all to North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, but wetlands were also heavily degraded in other parts of the world. Moreover, degradation is expected to accelerate in the future due to global environmental change. These developments are alarming because wetlands deliver a broad range of ecosystem services to societies, contributing significantly to human well-being. Among those services are water supply and purification, flood regulation, climate regulation, and opportunities for recreation, to name only a few. The benefits humans derive from those services, however, often are not reflected in markets as they are public goods in nature. Thus, arguing in favor of the preservation of wetlands requires, inter alia, to make the non-marketed economic benefits more visible and comparable to those from alternative—generally private—uses of converted wetlands, which are often much smaller. The significance of the non-market value of wetland services has been demonstrated in the literature: the benefits derived from wetlands have been one of the most frequently investigated topics in environmental economics and are integrated in meta-analyses devoted to synthesizing the present knowledge about the value of wetlands. The meta-analyses that cover both different types of wetlands in different landscapes as well as different geographical regions are supplemented by recent primary studies on topics of increasing importance such as floodplains and peatlands, as they bear, for example, a large flood regulation and climate change mitigation potential, respectively. The results underpin that the conversion of wetlands is accompanied by significant losses in benefits. Moreover, wetland preservation is economically beneficial given the large number of ecosystem services provided by wetland ecosystems. Thus, decision-making that might affect the status and amount of wetlands directly or indirectly should consider the full range of benefits of wetland ecosystems.
Amy W. Ando and Noelwah R. Netusil
Green stormwater infrastructure (GSI), a decentralized approach for managing stormwater that uses natural systems or engineered systems mimicking the natural environment, is being adopted by cities around the world to manage stormwater runoff. The primary benefits of such systems include reduced flooding and improved water quality. GSI projects, such as green roofs, urban tree planting, rain gardens and bioswales, rain barrels, and green streets may also generate cobenefits such as aesthetic improvement, reduced net CO2 emissions, reduced air pollution, and habitat improvement. GSI adoption has been fueled by the promise of environmental benefits along with evidence that GSI is a cost-effective stormwater management strategy, and methods have been developed by economists to quantify those benefits to support GSI planning and policy efforts. A body of multidisciplinary research has quantified significant net benefits from GSI, with particularly robust evidence regarding green roofs, urban trees, and green streets. While many GSI projects generate positive benefits through ecosystem service provision, those benefits can vary with details of the location and the type and scale of GSI installation. Previous work reveals several pitfalls in estimating the benefits of GSI that scientists should avoid, such as double counting values, counting transfer payments as benefits, and using values for benefits like avoided carbon emissions that are biased. Important gaps remain in current knowledge regarding the benefits of GSI, including benefit estimates for some types of GSI elements and outcomes, understanding how GSI benefits last over time, and the distribution of GSI benefits among different groups in urban areas.
Norman Q. Arancon and Zachary Solarte
Vermiculture is the art, science, and industry of raising earthworms for baits, feeds, and composting of organic wastes. Composting through the action of earthworms and microogranisms is commonly referred to as vermicomposting. Vermiculture is an art because the technology of raising earthworms requires a comprehensive understanding of the basic requirements for growing earthworms in order to design the space and the system by which organic wastes can be processed efficiently and successfully. It is a science because the technology requires a critical understanding and consideration of the climatic requirements, nutritional needs, growth cycles, taxonomy, and species of earthworms suitable for vermicomposting in order to develop a working system that supports earthworm populations to process successfully the intended organic wastes. The nature of the organic wastes also needs to be taken into careful consideration, especially its composition, size, moisture content, and nutritional value, which will eventually determine the overall quality of the vermicomposts produced. The quality of organic wastes also determines the ability of the earthworms to consume and process them, and the rate by which they turn these wastes into valuable organic amendments. The science of vermiculture extends beyond raising earthworms. There are several lines of evidence that vermicomposts affect plant growth significantly. Vermiculture is an industry because it has evolved from a basic household bin technology to commercially scaled systems in which economic activities emanate from the cost and value of obtaining raw materials, the building of systems, and the utilization and marketing of the products, be they in solid or aqueous extract forms. Economic returns are carefully valued from the production phase to its final utilization as an organic amendment for crops.
The discussion revolves around the development of vermiculture as an art, a science, and an industry. It traces the early development of vermicomposting, which was used to manage organic wastes that were considered environmentally hazardous when disposed of improperly. It also presents the vermicomposting process, including its basic requirements, technology involved, and product characteristics, both in solid form and as a liquid extract. Research reports from different sources on the performance of the products are also provided. The discussion attempts to elucidate the mechanisms involved in plant growth and yield promotion and the suppression of pests and diseases. Certain limitations and challenges that the technology faces are presented as well.
Maite M. Aldaya, M. Ramón Llamas, and Arjen Y. Hoekstra
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science. Please check back later for the full article.
The water footprint concept broadens the scope of traditional national and corporate water accounting as it has been previously known. It highlights the ways in which water consuming and polluting activities relate to the structure of the global economy, opening a window of opportunity to increase transparency and improve water management along whole-production and supply chains. This concept adds a new dimension to integrated water resources management in a globalized world.
The water footprint is a relatively recent indicator. Created in 2002, it aims to quantify the effect of consumption and trade on the use of water resources. Specifically, the water footprint is an indicator of freshwater use that considers both direct and indirect water use of a consumer or producer. For instance, the water footprint of a product refers to the volume of freshwater used to produce the product, tracing the origin of raw material and ingredients along their respective supply chains. This novel indirect component of water use in supply chains is, in many cases, the greatest share of water use, for example, in the food and beverage sector and the apparel industry. Water footprint assessment shows the full water balance, with water consumption and pollution components specified geographically and temporally and with water consumption specified by type of source (e.g., rainwater, groundwater, or surface water). It introduces three components:
1. The blue water footprint refers to the consumption of blue water resources (i.e., surface and groundwater including natural freshwater lakes, manmade reservoirs, rivers, and aquifers) along the supply chain of a product, versus the traditional and restricted water withdrawal measure.
2. The green water footprint refers to consumption through transpiration or evaporation of green water resources (i.e., soilwater originating from rainwater). Green water maintains natural vegetation (e.g., forests, meadows, scrubland, tundra) and rain-fed agriculture, yet plays an important role in most irrigated agriculture as well. Importantly, this kind of water is not quantified in most traditional agricultural water use analyses.
3. The grey water footprint refers to pollution and is defined as the volume of freshwater that is required to assimilate the load of pollutants given natural concentrations for naturally occurring substances and existing ambient water-quality standards.
The water footprint concept has been incorporated into public policies and international standards. In 2011, the Water Footprint Network adopted the Water Footprint Assessment Manual, which provides a standardized method and guidelines. In 2014, the International Organization for Standardization adopted a life cycle-based ISO 14046 standard for the water footprint; it offers guidelines to integrate water footprint analysis in life-cycle assessment for products. In practice, water footprint assessment generally results in increased awareness of critical elements in a supply chain, such as hotspots that deserve most attention, and what can be done to improve water management in those hotspots.
Water footprint assessment, including the estimation of virtual water trade, applied in different countries and contexts, is producing new data and bringing larger perspectives that, in many cases, lead to a better understanding of the drivers behind water scarcity.
Fidel Ribera Urenda
The importance of groundwater has become particularly evident in the late 20th and early 21st centuries due to its increased use in many human activities. In this time frame, vertical wells have emerged as the most common, effective, and controlled system for obtaining water from aquifers, replacing other techniques such as drains and spring catchments.
One negative effect of well abstraction is the generation of an inverted, conically shaped depression around the well, which grows as water is pumped and can negatively affect water quantity and quality in the aquifer. An increase in the abstraction rate of a specific well or, as is more common, an uncontrolled increase of the number of active wells in an area, could lead to overexploitation of the aquifer’s long-term groundwater reserves and, in some specific contexts, impact water quality. Major examples can be observed in arid or semi-arid coastal areas around the world that experience a high volume of tourism, where aquifers hydraulically connected with the sea are overexploited. In most of these areas, an excessive abstraction rate causes seawater to penetrate the inland part of the aquifer. This is known as marine intrusion. Another typical example of undesirable groundwater management can be found in many areas of intensive agricultural production. Excessive use of fertilizer is associated with an increase in the concentration of nitrogen solutions in groundwater and soils. In these farming areas, well design and controlled abstraction rates are critical in preventing penetrative depression cones, which ultimately affect water quality.
To prevent any negative effects, several methods for aquifer management can be used. One common method is to set specific abstraction rules according to the hydrogeological characteristics of the aquifer, such as flow and chemical parameters, and its relationship with other water masses. These management plans are usually governed by national water agencies with support from, or in coordination with, private citizens.
Transboundary or international aquifers require more complex management strategies, demanding a multidisciplinary approach, including legal, political, economic, and environmental action and, of course, a precise hydrogeological understanding of the effects of current and future usage.
What Is Public and What Is Private in Water Provision: Insights from Progressive Era Cities in the US Northeast
Gwynneth C. Malin
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science. Please check back later for the full article.
During the colonial period and into the mid-19th century, residents of US Northeast cities drew water for domestic uses from local ponds, rivers, and ground water sources. In these early urban settlements, procuring water was a daily activity and one linked to economic class. Water provision was often a blend of public and private efforts—if residents wanted a well or a sewer built in their neighborhood, they had to help pay for it. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, city officials in the US Northeast made the gradual transition from relying on private water companies to implementing the public management of water supply. As quickening urbanization and growing immigrant populations rendered local and privately managed water sources undersupplied, elected officials began to search for new sources of water.
Each city’s history is unique, but common themes include an increase in water pollution, the need to tap new water supplies further from city centers, disease prevention, fire extinction, and financial corruption, within both private water companies and municipal efforts to supply water. While most cities of the US Northeast transitioned to municipal operation of water supply during the 19th century, this shift was not without its challenges and complexity. Funding shortages often prevented change, but crises, such as fire, drought, and infectious disease outbreaks forced the hands of municipal officials. Philadelphia was first to transition to public water management in 1801, followed by New York in 1842, and Boston in 1848. In the late 19th century, New York experienced municipal delay, countered later by Progressive-era political forces that ultimately assured permanent public water management. The story of the emerging publicity of water management during this historical period sheds light on a larger narrative about the changing role of the state during the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era. It was during the 19th and early 20th centuries that the public management of water triumphed over private in the cities of the US Northeast.