|What is a Riparian Area?
Riparian areas, or zones, are an extremely crucial and vital ecosystem, which occur along watercourses or at the edge of water bodies. The common presence and effects of water produce a lusher, generally greener, belt of vegetation, which causes riparian areas to be among the most productive and important of all land types.Due to the presence of a water resource, riparian areas are vigorously sought after by recreationists, domestic livestock, wild big game animals and other wildlife, real estate developers and purchasers, road and utility right-of-ways and irrigators.
Why are Healthy Riparian Areas so Valuable?
The benefits of a good condition, naturally vegetated riparian area are many! The primary benefits include:
- Improved water quality, due to vegetative and soil filtration, absorption and reduced soil erosion
- Quality wildlife habitat for many species, from insects to big game animals
- Quality livestock grazing from the lush, high value and diverse vegetation
- Quality drinking water for wildlife, livestock and people
- Improved aquatic habitats due to cooler, cleaner water and increased food sources
- Reduced downstream flooding as water is slowed down and absorbed into soils and shallow aquifers
- Increased beauty and physical attractiveness of streams, rivers, marshes and lakes
- Aquifer recharge due to the slower passage of water and improved water movement into soils and water bearing strata
- Improved recreational attributes for people – the beautiful Frio River vs. a concrete ditch
- Provision of wildlife corridors that are critical to many species, especially in urban areas
- Improved environmental conditions in towns and cities due to atmospheric cooling, air cleansing and sound absorption
Protect, Manage & Restore
Are these enough good reasons to protect, manage and restore Texas’ riparian areas? Most Texans, when aware of the facts, agree.
There are severely damaged and sometimes, totally destroyed riparian areas in every part of our state. The damage is sometimes less evident in the wetter eastern watersheds as the high rainfall and humidity will generally support some level of vegetation in spite of major abuse, so the riparian areas are still green. In drier areas of Texas our stream riparian areas often suffer badly due to a higher degree of pressure being placed upon the scarce water resources and a much slower ecological recovery rate.
It is very common to find many miles of our creeks, rivers and lakes totally developed for homesites, marinas and other recreational interests. This tendency of man wanting to live, camp or utilize water fronts is potentially devastatingly destructive not only to the water resources and riparian areas, but to human development when the next flood arises – and it will. Also, many miles of popular river, stream and lake banks are stripped bare of vegetation, soil-compacted and decorated with all types of trash from swimmers, fishermen, tubers and other recreationists.
The Future of Our State’s Water Resources
We cannot under-estimate the critical condition of many of our state’s water resources and the importance of the needs in Texas and for future Texans. Good quality riparian areas depend upon good quality management of the surrounding uplands in the watershed. The watershed management movement is catching on nationwide and is even becoming more prominent here in Texas. Whether in downtown Dallas, Houston, Austin or San Antonio or in a remote rural county, it is equally important to properly manage, protect or restore that crucial riparian zone. In urban areas, non-point pollution, degraded/paved watersheds and the channelization of streams are often the major causes of riparian area destruction. On many Texas farms and ranches a great many watersheds and riparian areas have experienced varying degrees of abuse and neglect, due to poor livestock management or farming practices. Similarly, overuse of riparian vegetation by native or exotic animals causes similar damage.
We must raise the level of riparian awareness and knowledge among all Texans and our millions of visitors. This is as true in major cities as it is in rural areas. The majority of voters in Texas are now in urban areas and these Texans must understand, appreciate and properly manage riparian areas. This is equally true for rural Texans, farmers and ranchers who actually control most of the state’s riparian zones. Agricultural operators and owners should learn to properly manage and conserve the resources that they manage. This is an awesome responsibility to conserve and improve these natural resources so that the next generation will inherit something much better than did their parents.
Hope with Your Help!
Fortunately, the recovery and restoration of riparian vegetation can often be fairly rapid due to the generally higher moisture levels and higher organic matter content of riparian soils. Lateral water movement from the water body and occasional flooding assist in improving this recovery in many cases.
We must cooperatively review each situation, our state’s needs and the appropriate goals in attempting to achieve a high level of riparian excellence.
Please support the Texas Riparian Association. Make a difference and get involved today!