Riparian buffer zones (RBZ) are vegetated areas adjacent to surface watercourses. They are important for terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems since they regulate the fluxes of sediments and nutrients from land to water, reduce the impact of flooding, and are the habitat for plants and animals of both systems. The present PhD project aims to develop a methodology for the optimal determination of the RBZs (that maximizes social welfare and/or minimizes costs), considering the ecosystem services provided, the opportunity costs involved and the environmental policy strategy to be implemented. We will focus on analysing the service of water quality improvement that the RBZs provide by operating as a natural barrier for sediments, pathogens and nutrient loads from adjacent lands. This ecosystem service is essential for the provision of clean water to urban, productive and natural systems.
The project is structured in four specific objectives:
Objective 1: Evaluate the efficiency of buffer zones as a measure to reduce the export of nutrients to watercourses, compared to a tax on fertilizers as an alternative measure.
Objective 2: Economically value water quality improvement provided by different combinations and scenarios of RBZs.
Objective 3: Evaluate the factors that determine the willingness of Uruguayan farmers and ranchers to participate in different types of environmental policy strategies for implementing RBZ conservation measures, such as mandatory buffer strips or payment for ecosystem services scheme.
Objective 4: Evaluate the cost-effectiveness and impacts on human well-being of different combinations of width, composition of RBZ and environmental policy strategy on a conservation measure of RBZ.