• water policy;
  • water management;
  • economics;
  • social

ABSTRACT: Sound water resource management requires comparison of benefits and costs. Many of the perceived benefits of water relate to providing instream flow for recreation and endangered fish. These uses have value but no prices to guide resource allocation. Techniques to estimate the dollar values of environmental benefits are presented and illustrated with several case studies. The results of the case studies show that emphasis on minimum instream flow allocates far less than the economically optimum amount of water to instream uses. Studies in Idaho demonstrated that optimum flows that balance benefits and costs can be ten times greater than minimum flows. The economic benefits of preserving public trust resources outweighed the replacement cost of water and power by a factor of fifty in California. While it is important to incorporate public preferences in water resource management, these economic survey techniques provide water managers with information not just on preference but how much the public is willing to pay for as well. This facilitates comparison of the public costs and benefits of instream flows.