Waterway Basics

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 the 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.


How can you make your waterway healthy?

Learn more Examine educational resources and programs created to help Thurston County residents create healthy waterways.

Receive assistance from local organizations — Receive guidance from local, state, and national programs offering technical advice and services that empower you to improve your waterway.

Explore opportunities to protect your land Learn about conservation easements and how you can help preserve your waterway for years to come.

Learn about financial assistance programs — Local, state, and national organizations offer cost-share programs, monetary grants, and incentives to assist you in funding your waterway projects.


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