Natural rivers in urban areas bear significant potential to provide ecosystem services for the surrounding inhabitants. However, surface sealing by houses and street networks, urban drainage, disposal of waste and wastewater resulting from advancing urbanization usually lead to the deterioration of urban rivers and their riparian areas. This ultimately damages their ability to provide ecosystem services. This paper presents an innovative methodology for a rapid and low-cost assessment of the ecological status of urban rivers and riparian areas in developing countries under data scarce conditions. The methodology uses a combination of field data and freely available high-resolution satellite images to assess three ecological status categories: river hydromorphology, water quality, and riparian land cover. The focus here is on the assessment of proxies for biophysical structures and processes representing ecological functioning that enable urban rivers and riparian areas to provide ecosystem services. These proxies represent a combination of remote sensing land cover- and field-based indicators. Finally, the three ecological status categories are combined to quantify the potential of different river sections to provide regulating ecosystem services. The development and application of the methodology is demonstrated and visualized for each 100 m section of the Pochote River in the City of León, Nicaragua. This spatially distributed information of the ecosystem service potential of individual sections of the urban river and riparian areas can serve as important information for decision making regarding the protection, future use, and city development of these areas, as well as the targeted and tailor-made development of nature-based solutions such as green infrastructure.
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