SMP Nuts and Bolts

Assess Conditions and Identify Risks

Evaluate Community Benefits

Aesthetics and Intrinsic Values

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.

Data Types


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


No stream management plans to date have conducted an assessment of aesthetic or intrinsic values, though it can be a driving force behind why an SMP is undertaken. However, other efforts have developed methods that SMPs can learn from. Below are a few examples of how to assess this variable.

  1. Through an extensive public outreach process, the City of Loveland’s Big Thompson River Corridor Master Plan gathered information on current use and potential river corridor improvements the public preferred. The input was used to develop recommendations and project ideas for parks and recreation, trails, and land use management in the river corridor.
  2. Protect the Flows, a network of over 800 businesses in the seven Colorado River Basin states, sponsored research to investigate the economic value that proximity to the Colorado River (and its tributaries) adds to private properties as well as how property values might be affected by changes in river flow.
  3. Colorado State University professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics Dr. John Loomis used the contingent valuation method in which a survey was administered to Fort Collins residents to elicit their willingness to pay to maintain peak river flows.

Explore other community benefits

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