Is Urban Stream Restoration Worth It?

Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

J. Am. Water Res. Assoc.

Publication Date



natural resource economics;rivers/streams;urban areas;nonpoint source pollution;best management practices (BMPs);restoration;watershed management;stormwater management


Public investment in urban stream restoration is growing, yet little has been done to quantify whether its benefits outweigh its cost. The most common drivers of urban stream projects are water quality improvement and infrastructure protection, although recreational and aesthetic benefits are often important community goals. We use standard economic methods to show that these contributions of restoration can be quantified and compared to costs. The approach is demonstrated with a case study in Baltimore, Maryland, a city with a legal mandate to reduce its pollutant load. Typical urban stream restoration costs of US$500-1,200 per foot are larger than the cost of the least expensive alternatives for management of nitrogen loads from stormwater (here, detention ponds, equivalent to $30-120 per foot of restored stream) and for protecting infrastructure (rip-rap armoring of streambanks, at $0-120 per foot). However, the higher costs of stream restoration can in some cases be justified by its aesthetic and recreational benefits, valued using a contingent valuation survey at $560-1,100 per foot. We do not intend to provide a definitive answer regarding the worth of stream restoration, but demonstrate that questions of worth can be asked and answered. Broader application of economic analysis would provide a defensible basis for understanding restoration benefits and for making restoration decisions.

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