Rivers are a quintessential element of western landscapes, and contribute to the quality of life in a community in many ways. Riverside parks and trails give community residents aesthetic enjoyment and help create a “sense of place.” Riparian areas provide a masking effect for built-environments, buffering noise and visual impacts from developed areas—helping maintain a culturally-expected ‘look and feel’ of Colorado communities. Communities with a recreational tourism or resort economy attract residents or visitors who value the aesthetics of mountain landscapes. Studies suggest that rivers have positive impacts on mental health, psycho-social well-being, and physical condition, and that water has a ‘psychologically restorative’ effect.
The intrinsic value a community places on a river can be a driving force to begin an SMP or IWMP, and assessment of a river’s contribution to a community’s quality of life or economy can justify investment in its restoration or protection. Economic valuation studies are often used to gauge this value; however, many people believe that rivers have intrinsic value independent of their economic worth. They advocate for the conservation, maintenance, and support of rivers for their own sake, regardless of human valuation.
Economic valuation studies to understand willingness to pay for the community benefits from a river
Frequency of use of policy mechanisms to protect a river’s contribution to community identity, including conservation easements, instream flow rights and aesthetic values in planning or zoning codes
Occurrence of a river focus in a community’s tourism advertising
Relative value of river-front real estate compared to non-river-front
Social science methods to understand the value of a river to the community, including personal interviews or visitor use surveys