A problem in applying benefit-cost analysis to planning issues is the difficulty of imputing values to public goods like water quality. During the past thirty years, the contingent valuation (CV) survey method has been institutionalized as a technique for valuing these types of goods. This article traces the development of the method and summarizes recent federal guidelines. Examples from three recent studies, involving willingness to pay for nonpoint-source pollution controls, are used to illustrate issues about the technique. Considerations for planners who must undertake or evaluate CV studies are discussed.