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PLoS One. 2019 May 8;14(5):e0214986. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0214986. eCollection 2019.

River metrics by the public, for the public.

Author information

1
University of Maryland, Center for Environmental Science, Solomons, Maryland, United States of America.
2
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, Western Ecology Division, Corvallis, Oregon, United States of America.

Abstract

Managing rivers in society's best interest requires data on river condition. However, the complexity of river ecosystems, combined with finite budgets for river monitoring and modeling, mean difficult choices are necessary regarding what information will be available. Typically, decisions of "what to measure" are left to natural scientists. However, knowledge of public appetite for different types of information helps ensure river data is useful to society. We investigated public interest in rivers directly, engaging nearly one hundred urban and rural participants in a combination of focus groups and semi-structured interviews. Drawing on concepts of "final" ecosystem services developed in environmental economics, we moved discussions past commonly mentioned stressors, such as pollution, to actual river features important in and of themselves. Participant feedback reflected extensive thought on river issues, in contrast to a stereotype that the public is ambivalent about environmental conditions. Interests were also broad, encompassing water quality and quantity, fish and wildlife, vegetation, and human features. Results show consolidation around relatively few themes despite diverse sociodemographics. Themes were interpreted into distilled, specific metrics to make public feedback as useful as possible for water resources monitoring, modeling, and management. Our research provides detailed, methodically generated hypotheses regarding river themes and metrics of public interest that should be considered as part of the tradeoffs inherent in river monitoring design. Results compared reasonably well to river attributes emphasized in river restoration environmental valuation reviews, with some differences. Future research could test our hypotheses with large-sample surveys.

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