Managing Semi-Arid Watersheds: Watershed Basics - What is a Riparian Area?
Riparian communities consist of aquatic
plants that grow adjacent to streams or lakes and have root systems that
can reach the water table. They are often the only sites in an arid climate
that have trees and shrubs. Healthy riparian plant communities are needed
to stabilize stream banks and reduce soil erosion. Riparian systems, with
standing or running water, are valuable components of the dryland environments
throughout the world. These ecosystems are diverse and unique areas that
attract people and a diversity of wildlife species. They frequently are
corridors of migration for animals. Riparian areas, found in the transition
between water and land, are important wildlife habitats because they provide
the three things every organism needsfood, shelter, and water.
Because of their frequent high use by people and animals, riparian areas
need to be protected. Cutting of trees and shrubs and grazing by livestock
and wildlife species often needs to be controlled. Riparian sites can
be fenced to control livestock grazing. Constructing water developments,
such as stock tanks, and providing salt at locations away from riparian
areas, can help protect riparian areas when fencing is not feasible. Activities
such as road construction and intensive, recreational use should be minimized
in riparian systems. Another way to protect riparian systems is to improve
the conditions on upland areas of the watersheds.
The rate of water flow increased in many streams when beavers were eliminated.
Removal of beavers lead to greater fluctuations in streamflow and decreased
the potential for water storage upstream. Today, gully plugs, check dams,
and restoration of riparian plant species along stream channels can be
used to increase the duration of water flow and to stabilize the channel
banks. These structures, as well as riparian plants, trap and store sediments
and provide greater water retention stream systems. The stored sediments
become saturated following storm events and, as drainage continues, the
water is released more slowly and sustained for longer periods of time.
These management practices help maintain the riparian vegetation.
Optimum management of riparian systems requires consideration of both
the environmental factors and economic needs of the area. Seldom are riparian
areas managed best for only a single use. A compromise form of management
usually results in the greatest value to people. However, to maintain
them, some riparian systems may have to be set aside as natural areas
in specific instances.
Find AWAE and follow us on your favorite social media site: