Water sources and ecosystems services in the Lombardy forests

  • Nature Governance
  • Italy
  • 2019 - 2020





Among the environmental services provided by forests in Lombardy, the provision of water (for human consumption through aqueducts and in mountain pastures and huts) is the most profitable one; its value has been recognised by the Region of Lombardy in its “ Carta delle Foreste di Lombardia” document.

The problem

In order to improve the management of its forests, in 2013 the Ente Regionale per I servizi all’agricoltura e alle foreste (ERSAF) carried out a preliminary inventory of its springs. It identified a total of 120 areas, of which 23 are used for public aqueducts and 26 are used for other purposes (zootechnical, agrotourism, hydroelectric, fire-fighting, etc.).

However, this preliminary work has not succeeded in making policymakers and direct users recognise the real value of these natural water sources, and this lack of knowledge has made it very difficult for the Region to protect these areas.

The solution and our contribution

Etifor – on ERSAF’s behalf – is carrying out a broader analysis with the aim of assessing how these waters are used, calculating their economic value, and defining the related ‘payment for ecosystem services’ (PES).

The project is composed of the following phases:

  • investigating international experiences of the economic valorisation of drinking water which may serve as case studies to learn from;
  • updating the inventory already prepared by ERSAF, turning it into an easy-to-navigate and complete database; carrying out an economic evaluation to identify the annual flow of ecosystem benefits in monetary terms for each source;
  • finally, since the forests of Lombardy comply with FSC® sustainable forest management standards, a process of certification of ecosystem services has been undertaken. In order to follow up and disseminate the analyses carried out, the verification of the positive impacts of responsible forest management (e.g. CO2 capture, water regulation, recreational aspects and biodiversity) can pave the way for new forms of economic enhancement, including through private investments.

In conclusion, thanks to the activities already completed we can state that the average economic value of a drinking water spring in Lombardy is around 4000 €/year, which corresponds to 117 thousand €/year in total for all springs.