Riparian Zones

Have you ever noticed how the land along the banks of a stream or the shores of a lake often looks different from the surrounding area?

These areas, called riparian zones or “green zones,” are where water and land often overlap (which is why the land is so lush). Riparian zones play unique roles across the country in protecting streams, drinking water, and fish and wildlife.

Riparian Habitat Wyoming_USFWS

Why is a healthy riparian zone important?

  • Erosion control: Slows the speed of high, fast-moving water, which helps reduce stream-bank erosion. Also supports root masses that strengthen stream banks.
  • Pollution control: Traps sediment, keeping it out of the water and adding to the soil in the surrounding flood plain.
  • Flood reduction: Stores flood water.
  • Cooler and cleaner water for fish and other species
  • Nursery areas for many aquatic plant and animal species: Creates areas in the water that are calm and deep, providing habitat for fish, waterfowl, and other aquatic animals.
  • Wildlife corridors and nesting/breeding habitat
  • Educational opportunities
  • Natural beauty
  • Enhanced property values

Although riparian areas generally occupy only a small percentage of the area of a watershed, they are crucial components of the ecosystem. Healthy riparian zones provide many benefits to the natural and cultural landscape.

The riparian zone is critical to the health of every stream and its surroundings environment. It connects the upland zone to the aquatic zone, controlling the flow of water, sediment, nutrients, and organisms between the two. Without a proper functioning riparian zone, the other zones suffer.