The EC Water Framework Directive (WFD) sets ambitious quality targets for member state water bodies by 2015. The provisions are being transposed predominantly using a cost-effectiveness criterion, which raises questions about the relative balance of costs [of reaching good status (GS)] and corresponding (non-)market benefits or the economic efficiency of the legislation. This study provides an insight into public perceptions of water quality improvements based on an application of national characterisation data on the state of the water environment in Scotland. A choice experiment approach is used to quantify non-market benefits of achieving GS across Scottish rivers and lochs over varying timescales and different geographical levels, with the aim of revealing willingness-to-pay data that is specifically relevant for WFD implementation. We find that the benefits of implementing the WFD are substantial. Results show that geographical differences in preferences for national improvements in the river and loch water quality in Scotland exist, both in terms of magnitudes of benefit estimates and time preferences for improvements. These differences need to be taken into account in analyses at the river basin district or national level in order to support policy options for the implementation of the WFD across the country.

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