Integrating ecosystem services in river basin management plans.

Published online
01 Jun 2016
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Terrado, M. & Momblanch, A. & Bardina, M. & Boithias, L. & Munné, A. & Sabater, S. & Solera, A. & Acuña, V.
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Publication language
European Union & Europe


According to the European Union Water Framework Directive, river basin management plans must include a programme of measures, with a series of management actions aiming to achieve good ecosystem status of all water bodies within the basin. The design and later prioritization of these management actions is, in theory, done through cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA), which compares management action costs with expected improvements in ecosystem status. However, such an approach does not consider the effects of management actions on human well-being resulting from changes in the provision of ecosystem services. We propose to complement the current CEA approach with a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) integrating the effects of management actions on the provision of ecosystem services, therefore moving from a single-objective to a multiobjective approach. We propose a flexible methodological framework based on a combination of CEA and CBA that can be easily adapted to different case studies. To test the applicability of our approach, we applied it to an impaired basin, the Llobregat River basin (north-eastern Iberian Peninsula). The analysis considers management actions selected from the programme of measures under implementation: establishment of environmental river flows, improvement of river connectivity, treatment of urban wastewater and reduction in saline pollution; and the effects on a series of ecosystem services: water provisioning, waste treatment and habitat for species. Results revealed that management actions designed to improve ecosystem status do not necessarily improve human well-being through changes in the provision of ecosystem services. The implementation of the CEA and CBA allowed the identification of management actions providing the best trade-offs between improvements of ecosystem status and human well-being. For example, the establishment of environmental river flows in the upper Llobregat River was the management action that maximized the balance between gains in ecosystem status and human well-being. Synthesis and applications. Overall, the combination of cost-effectiveness analysis and cost-benefit analysis supports a more informed and transparent decision-making in the implementation of river basin management plans, better assisting stakeholders to prioritize those management actions providing the optimal win-win results.

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