What is a riparian zone?

Your waterway can be a stream, river, wetland, drainage ditch, pond, lake, or marine shoreline. All waterways have riparian zones, a riparian zone is a transitional area between a water environment and a land environment. This area is commonly thought of as the strips of land along a waterway. Riparian zones have unique soil and plant characteristics that serve as habitat for many important species. Riparian zones play numerous critical roles in our ecosystem. These include:

Enhanced wildlife habitat — Trees and shrubs provide shelter and food for fish and aquatic creatures. Riparian zones act as travel corridors for diverse species of wildlife.

Waterway stabilization — Root systems in trees and shrubs hold the soil along waterways, assisting prevention of bank collapse and erosion during periods of high water.

Runoff absorption and flooding reduction — Tree and shrub roots create a pathway down through the soil profile, allowing water to soak into the soil, recharging groundwater reserves, and replenishing the stream flow.

Improved quality and regulation of water temperature—Plants act as a filtration system, removing sediment, excess nutrients, pesticides, pathogens, and other pollutants before they enter the water. Trees and shrubs shade and cool waterways during warm weather.

What makes a healthy riparian zone?

In order for a riparian zone to enhance our ecosystem and provide essential benefits, it must be healthy. A healthy riparian zone consists of several different components. These include:

Large, deep-rooted native trees and shrubs — Large, deep-rooted native trees and shrubs provided needed shade to keep waterway temperatures cool and healthy. Deep roots stabilize the waterways bank and assist in preventing erosion.

Large woody debris — Large woody debris like fallen trees and root wads are important to the health of a waterway. Woody debris create significant habitat for fish species like salmon.

A meandering waterway — A meandering waterway increases the distance water travels and slows its velocity. This helps reduce erosion of the waterway’s banks and gives aquatic species a place to rest.

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