Valuing Ecosystem Goods and Services in the Columbia River Basin

When decision makers undervalue the benefits we derive from nature, they underestimate the full costs to society of converting natural resources to uses that destroy or degrade natural capital. Recognition of the benefits of ecosystem goods and services (EGS) by policy makers is therefore an important step in formulating effective natural resources policy that is designed to benefit all other aspects of society and nature.

At a regional level, the long-term sustainability of the Columbia River and its communities depends on ecosystem functions. Despite these significant benefits, the topic of ecosystem goods and services is under-studied in the Columbia River Basin (CRB) and the magnitude of climate change and other impacts is poorly understood.

To help develop a better understanding of the benefits of ecosystems, this study reports best estimates of some of the current and future values of EGS in the US portion of the CRB, a 670,800 square-kilometer area of land drained by the Columbia River that spans parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, using data and techniques available at this time.

Our analysis clearly demonstrates the need for acknowledgment of non-market, ecosystem-based values as the sovereign parties consider options for renegotiation, or modification, of the Columbia River Treaty (CRT). We acknowledge that many cultural and spiritual ecosystem values transcend economic values. We present this work as a comment on the fact that the contribution of ecosystems to human well-being is currently valued at zero in the CRT.

This ACT report has three objectives:

  1. To identify the connections between food, water, energy, and biodiversity (the nexus) in the CRB.
  2. To estimate the economic value of some of the non-market benefits that ecosystems in the CRB provide to the US – as well as some of the costs to British Columbia incurred by the coordinated management of water flows under the CRT.
  3. To consider the effects on these values and connections between changing supplies and demands driven by a changing climate and a growing population.

This work builds on the work undertaken by ACT in development of our 2014 publication, The Columbia River Treaty: A Primer, available here from Rocky Mountain Books.

ACT would like to thank the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions and the Real Estate Foundation of BC for their generous support in development of this report.

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