COLUMBIA – Clemson University environmental economics experts met with state officials and other stakeholders to discuss bringing a system to South Carolina that pays farmers and landowners to help conserve natural resources.

Waterfall in river

A Payments for Ecosystem Services encourages natural resource conservation and sustainable watershed management.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

The system would provide a means of determining a monetary value for environmental goods and services. The Santee River Basin would be the first South Carolina region to implement this system, known as Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES).

“The basic idea is to create a framework which highlights the value of ecosystem services,” said Marzieh Motallebi, an assistant professor at Clemson’s Belle W. Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science. “We are meeting with state officials to explain how a Payments for Ecosystem Services system can create a cycle of sustainable utilization, as well as establish management of available resources in the Santee River Basin.”

PES encourages natural resource conservation and sustainable watershed management by placing a monetary value on ecosystem services including food and water production, regulations needed to control climate and diseases, nutrient cycle support and oxygen production, as well as cultural services such as recreational activities. A financial incentive is given to people who provide these services. PES is the mechanism that governs these payments.

According to a recent report, natural-resources contribute $33.4 billion to the state’s economy and are responsible for more than 200,000 jobs.

Payments for ecosystem services are made when landowners take steps to preserve the environment, such as planting trees in areas where erosion or other natural disasters could occur. This is in contrast to what happens when someone pollutes and has to pay a fine. In a PES, people are compensated for taking care of the land.

In current PES systems, payments are made to landowners from private beneficiaries, such as when the Nestle Corporation paid farmers to stop using chemicals in northeastern France, or by a public authority when ecosystem services benefit the public as a whole such as when cropland is converted to forests. Funding can come from money generated by taxes on gasoline, electricity, water, transportation and more, as well as, money generated by tourism, or other cultural activities.

Carl Ureta, a Clemson doctoral student from the Philippines, knows firsthand how a PES system works and benefits that can be gained by participating in such a system.

“A PES system combines socioeconomic and biophysical models,” Ureta said. “It takes in to account everyone associated with a watershed. It looks at it from a multi-stakeholder perspective. A PES system strives to find a balance between social sciences and physical sciences.”

A PES system was successfully used in the Cagayan de Oro River Basin in the Philippines to rehabilitate the area following destruction by Typhoon Washi in 2011. Issues faced included working around environmental threats the community faces, as well as the lack of resources to ensure their livelihood and cultural practices. Another issue was that the surrounding communities living around the Cagayan de Oro river basin were vulnerable to severe flooding and landslides due to deforestation in the highlands. A third, was that the involved communities were in need of just, participatory and sustainable solutions for disaster risk reduction and management and adapting to the growing threat of climate change.

The solution was a PES system introduced by the government in collaboration with other partners and civic organizations. The PES mechanism used encourage different stakeholders in the Santee river basin to participate in order to rehabilitate the forests so that streams in the region could develop a high-water infiltration capacity and provide a continuous supply of potable water, clean air, food and more. Once a PES system was initiated, relationships between the communities in the highlands and the communities in the lowlands improved. They began working together to rebuild the affected area.

Jerome Brown, a state resource conservationist with the United States Department of Agriculture National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in South Carolina, attended the PES workshop and said he believes programs such as this are beneficial.

“There appears to be a disconnect between humans and the environment,” Brown said. “It is important for us to maintain a connection to the natural world. A healthy environment is vital for human survival. Educating the public about what they need to do to conserve our natural resources is very important.”

Other speakers for the meeting included, Robert Baldwin, Forestry and Environmental Conservation professor and Margaret H. Lloyd-SmartState chair, who talked about his extensive experience working on conservation planning in South Carolina. Lori Dickes, program and assistant director of the South Carolina Water Resources Center, also helped with organizing the workshop, which ended with an interactive activity where stakeholders were asked to add their input to an interactive map about where the ecosystem services threats are in Santee Basin. Link to the interactive story map: https://clemson.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=39e4e50299034a21a4425dba3bc35f0e

This was just the first meeting where bringing a PES system conversation to South Carolina was discussed. Motallebi said she hopes more conversations will be held, but it still could take a few years before a PES system is implemented in the state.

The Santee River Basin is one of eight major river basins in South Carolina. It is located in Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Clarendon, Dorchester, Georgetown, Orangeburg, Sumter and Williamsburg counties. This basin is the sixth largest in South Carolina, covering about 2,985 square miles, 9.6 percent of the state’s area. Other South Carolina river basins are Broad River Basin, Catawba River Basin, Edisto River Basin, Pee Dee River Basin, Salkehatchie River Basin, Saluda River Basin and the Savannah River Basin.

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This research is supported by the USDA-National Institutes of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Department (USDA-NRCS) under Award Number 2018-67020-27854. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of USDA-NIFA nor USDA-NRCS