EPA’s Rapid Benefits Indicator Helps Wetland Communities Estimate and Quantify Benefits
Wetlands are important to our national and local economies. Some of the benefits of wetlands are relatively easy to quantify because they have direct financial impacts. For example, wetlands support commercially valuable fish and shellfish, protect against costly flooding, and reduce water treatment expenditures by naturally removing pollutants.
But other benefits provided by wetlands can be difficult to calculate, for example, opportunities for physical recreation such as birdwatching or their aesthetic value. Researchers wanted to create a tool that helps states and local communities quantify the benefits of restoring wetlands, which can facilitate the ability to prioritize restoration sites.
EPA’s Rapid Benefits Indicator approach, or RBI, is a simplified process that uses readily-available data to estimate and quantify benefits to people around an ecological restoration site. It provides a framework that can be used to compare potential wetland restoration scenarios based on these benefits without the need for estimating dollar values.
This is important, according to EPA researcher Marisa Mazzotta, because, “Non-monetary indicators give people a way to compile information that indicates who is likely to benefit from a given site, and by how much.” This helps decision makers by providing more accurate, localized information that would help prioritize resources.
Every decision has a tradeoff, especially when it comes to deciding how to spend time and money. For example, as Mazzotta explains, “Is size or location more important? Is reducing flood risk or improving the local scenery more important? Is social equity or long-term viability of a site more important?” Assuming that a community wants to spend money to restore local wetlands, deciding which specific site to select, including detailed tradeoffs, like the ones mentioned, between the functions and benefits of each site becomes relevant to the decision.
Mazzotta goes on to say, “The RBI tool, by making the tradeoffs explicit, can support more informed decisions. It can also demonstrate to funders or the public or others what they will get out of investing in a specific site.”
The tool is primarily aimed at helping government agencies, watershed groups, funding organizations, and local stakeholders. The RBI approach was developed to help restore freshwater wetlands but could be used to evaluate other habitats--mangroves or salt marshes, for example--as long as there are data to support the specific context. “Many watershed and wetlands restoration groups don’t have economists on staff or large budgets but want ways to show the benefits of their work, either to the public or to donors or funders,” adds Mazzotta.