La Trobe University economist Professor Lin Crase is leading an international research team trying to pin down these elusive concepts to improve environmental valuation.
'Australia needs better water resource management, and the rapid growth of our cities places increased importance on managing remaining natural assets in metropolitan areas,' he says.
He and his team have just received a $140,000 federal government ARC Linkages grant to help achieve that.
Director of the Centre for Water Policy and Management at La Trobe's Albury-Wodonga Campus, Professor Crase is one of Australia's leading experts in this field.
In designing the armoury for this new approach, the economist is turning to psychology, 'to fill an important gap between the two disciplines,' he says, and drawing on recent research into a concept called 'bluespace'.
'Psychologists have worked out people's health improves, that they rehabilitate more effectively, in the presence of things like waterways,' he explains. 'So we are mapping this type of work into the way we measure and think about the economic benefits of waterways.
Current calculations 'a bit rubbery'
It might mean, for instance, that it makes more sense to retain some natural elements of waterways in urban areas instead of building barbeques and playgrounds on top of them.'
Professor Crase says at the moment, calculating amenity gains from creeks and rivers is a bit rubbery. 'Politicians like using words like liveability to pass off all sorts of projects as related to amenity. So we're trying to nail this down a bit.'
The new project, titled 'Understanding, measuring and managing the benefits of urban waterways', is being carried out in association with Melbourne Water, the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries as well as the universities of Western Australia, Monash, Central Queensland and the University of Manchester in the UK.
Apart from trying to quantify amenity, liveability and public health benefits of 'bluespace', the research also focuses on more widely recognised ecological gains from urban waterways.
'Some streams still play a major role in providing pockets of habitat that can influence the quality of water that enters important environments such as Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne and other catchments and wetlands,' Professor Crase concludes.
Contact: Professor Lin Crase on 02 6024 9834 (Albury-Wodonga Campus) or Ernest Raetz, Media and Communications, 0412 261 919