The value of wetlands for water quality improvement: an example from the St. Johns River watershed, Florida

Document Type


Publication Date



Wetlands provide many valuable ecosystem functions such as sediment and nutrient retention, high biological productivity and biodiversity, flood control, and opportunities to recreate. Despite their importance, estimating the value of wetlands is difficult as the worth of these functions and services is not easily quantified. The overall objective of this study was to estimate the value of freshwater wetlands in the Saint Johns River (SJR) watershed, Florida based on their ability to remove nutrients, namely nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P). We used a combination of literature review, geospatial analysis of land cover, and regression analysis to determine the total wetland area in the SJR watershed and the rates of nitrogen and phosphorus burial in the wetlands. We then estimated the economic value of these wetlands based on the replacement cost of nutrient removal by wastewater treatment plants. Nitrogen burial rates ranged from 27 g/m2/year to a background rate of 6.56 g/m2/year, and phosphorus burial rates range from 1.31 g/m2/year to a background of 0.11 g/m2/year. Using these rates, we calculate wetlands of the SJR catchment remove 79,873 MT of nitrogen annually just from burial in the soil, with a replacement cost of between $240 million to $150 billion per year. The amount of phosphorus buried yearly is more than 2400 MT with an annual replacement cost of $17 to $497 million. Though they are based on limited data and include a variety of watershed-scale research limitations, these findings highlight the significant potential value of conserving functional wetlands based solely on their nutrient retention functions. If we were to consider the benefits associated with other wetland functions such as flood control, biological productivity, and biodiversity in addition to their ability to retain nutrients, the value of the SJR wetlands would be even greater.

Publication Title

Wetlands Ecology and Management





First Page


Last Page


Digital Object Identifier (DOI)