South Platte Watershed Natural Capital Resource Assessment

Led by a project team of federal and state agencies and consultants, this assessment analyzes and values the ecosystem services provided by the South Platte Watershed in Colorado, and provides data and tools to help managers prioritize investments in restoration and preservation to maintain ecosystem health. The South Platte Watershed covers 3.8 million acres spanning from the mountains to the Denver metropolitan area and adjacent plains. The assessment process involved mapping the natural assets in the South Platte Watershed and identifying the most important assets, valuing the ecosystem services provided by those assets, and developing a decision support tool to help prioritization of restoration and conservation decisions.

The project assessed the watershed in three different areas, which are each dominated by distinct land cover and land uses: the upper watershed (largely evergreen forest and herbaceous), the plains (mostly herbaceous or agriculture), and the Denver metro area (largely developed land). The project team gathered data on seven types of natural assets that were deemed important to stakeholders in the South Platte region: native forest resources, productive agricultural resources, wildlife habitat, clean drinking water, healthy waterways, access to nature, and urban ecosystem resources and parks. To assess the value of these natural assets, an Ecosystem Services Valuation was performed using a tool developed by Earth Economics that compiles ecosystem service values for different land cover types based on peer-reviewed studies, and a Benefit Transfer Methodology to translate those values to the South Platte watershed context.

Using data from the natural asset mapping and the ecosystem services valuation, the project team developed a project prioritization process that maps priority areas for resource investment, based on prioritization categories that could be utilized in different watershed areas for their unique natural assets. Prioritization categories include focal areas such as wildland fire, flooding, environmental justice, urban heat island, connectivity, and more.

The prioritization mapping allows stakeholders to identify and analyze landscapes by their ecosystem services value provided and natural capital in terms of the distinct prioritization categories, and the assessment includes case studies on how this tool can be used to inform decisionmaking. For example, one case study focuses on improving watershed health in order to reduce flood risk and improve water quality (the prioritization categories) in the Chatfield Reservoir, which supplies water to the Denver metropolitan area. The case study shows how the tools can inform ideal project locations and types, and estimate the value and effectiveness of these projects in achieving the goals of reducing flood risk and improving water quality.

The assessment process was led by the project directors, U.S. EPA, U.S. Forest Service, and Colorado Forest Service, with support from the project consultants, Ecosystem Sciences Foundation, Earth Economics, and Plan-It Geo. The project involved robust stakeholder engagement to gather input from those living and working in the watershed areas. The results of the assessment, including the decision support tool, will be used by the South Platte River Urban Waters Partnership - a coalition of public and private stakeholders that aims to protect and restore lands in the South Platte Watershed. The partnership was formed in 2011 with leadership from U.S. EPA and the U.S. Forest Service.


Publication Date: 2018

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  • Assessment

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