Need to Improve Riparian Areas
The State of Texas has more than 191,000 miles of rivers and streams that, along with closely associated floodplain and upland areas, comprise corridors of great economic, social, cultural, and environmental value. These riparian corridors are complex ecosystems that include the land, plants, animals, and network of streams within them. They perform a number of ecological functions such as modulating streamflow, storing water, removing harmful materials from water, and providing habitat for aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals. Simply put, the health of riparian systems is paramount to stream health.
Streams and riparian zones reflect the sum of impacts of natural and man-induced disturbances of drainage areas or watersheds. Management of the land, streams, and riparian zones affects not only individual landowners, but also livestock, wildlife, aquatic life and ecosystem services for everyone downstream. By understanding the processes, key indicators and impacts of disturbances, activities that hinder recovery, landowners and other citizen-stakeholders can evaluate these systems and improve their management to produce desired conditions.
Changes within a surrounding ecosystem (e.g., watershed) will impact the physical, chemical, and biological processes occurring within a stream corridor. Stream systems normally function within natural ranges of flow, sediment movement, temperature, and other variables, in “dynamic equilibrium.” Over the years, human activities have contributed to changes in the dynamic equilibrium of stream systems. These activities have manipulated stream corridor systems for a wide variety of purposes, including domestic and industrial water supplies, irrigation, transportation, hydropower, waste disposal, mining, flood control, timber management, recreation, aesthetics, and fish and wildlife habitat. Increases in human population along with industrial, commercial, and residential development place heavy demands on stream corridors. The cumulative effects of these activities result in significant direct and indirect changes, not only to stream corridors, but also to the ecosystems or watersheds they are located in. The direct changes include degradation of water quality, decreased water storage and conveyance capacity, loss of habitat for fish and wildlife, and decreased recreational and aesthetic values. While the indirect changes are harder to quantify such as air quality, decomposition of wastes, and other ecosystem services we all take for granted, there is direct economic benefits that can be calculated. Many cities, such as Austin, have found that improving creek and floodplain protection is needed to prevent unsustainable public expense to maintain drainage infrastructure.