River conservation, restoration, and preservation: rewarding private behavior to enhance the commons

350 210 Stroud Water Research Center

Sweeney, B.W., and J.G. Blaine. 2016. Freshwater Science 35:755–763.


Download the PDF


Stream and river systems are a critical component of the world’s commons, providing a public good that is essential to all life. Almost half the stream and river systems in the USA are in poor condition because thousands of institutions and millions of people have historically made—and continue to make—poor decisions about watershed stewardship. The widespread adoption of best management practices (BMPs) in homes, offices, farms, and factories would do a great deal to mitigate existing impairments and prevent further degradation. Recent advances in technology, which allow precise and relatively inexpensive measurements of BMPs’ effectiveness, can provide an unprecedented level of accountability and make possible the use of incentives not previously available. We propose that incentivization can and should supplement education and legislation in promoting the adoption of BMPs, and we focus on rural and agricultural watersheds to explore how to incentivize BMPs to improve conservation, restoration, and preservation practices.