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The impact of water quality changes on the socio-economic system of the Guadiana Estuary: an assessment of management options

Mª Helena E. Guimarães, Centre for Marine and Environmental Research - CIMA Office for Sustainable Regional Development- GDRS
André Mascarenhas, Centro de Investigação Marinha e Ambiental - CIMA
Carlos Sousa, Centre for Marine and Environmental Research - CIMA
Tomasz Boski, Centre for Marine and Environmental Research - CIMA
Tomaz Ponce Dentinho, Office for Sustainable Regional Developement - GDRS


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Tourism related to bathing has a growing economic importance in the Guadiana Estuary in southern Spain and Portugal. Polls of local public opinion showed an awareness of potential and current threats to the aquatic environment posed by regulation of river flow and untreated/poorly-treated urban sewage discharge. Because of this strong concern for water quality, it was selected as the policy issue for our application of the Systems Approach Framework (SAF). We developed an integrated simulation model of the Guadiana estuarine system in which the ecological system and socioeconomic components are linked by means of beach eco-label (Blue Flag Award) through its dependence on fecal bacterial thresholds. We quantified the socioeconomic impacts of water quality through an Economic Base Model that is used to portray the effect of increasing employment on resident population as a result of change in coastal water quality. A Cost-Benefit Analysis provides monetary indicators for scenario evaluation. It includes a monetary valuation of changes in water quality on human welfare using a Contingent Valuation Method. Because the population has a strong seasonal influence on the wastewater discharge into the estuary, we were able to simulate the feedback loop between the human activities that control water quality and those that benefit from it. We organized a critical evaluation of our efforts with the stakeholders, which allowed us to better understand their perceptions of the strengths, limitations, and opportunities for future SAF applications. Here we describe several aspects of our efforts that demonstrate the potential value of the SAF to environmental managers and stakeholders in clarifying some of the causal mechanisms, management options, and costs for resolution of the conflictual problem between water quality and tourism in the Guadiana estuary.

Key words

blue flag award; cost-benefit analysis; economic base model; Guadiana estuary; systems approach; tourism; water quality
Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087