What does “riparian” mean?

The word “riparian” came to English from the source that gave us “river” – the Latin riparius, a noun deriving from ripa, meaning “bank” or “shore.” “Riparian” refers to things existing alongside a river, such as riparian wetlands, habitats and trees. Nowadays, we just call them the river or stream bank—the land and plant ecology next to waterways.

The size and quality of these waterway banks, as well as how they’re used or if is they’re left undisturbed, defines how well the natural purpose and functionality of these specialized lands perform. Riparian habitat conservation has a direct effect on waterway health, and therefore how well fish and aquatic life are served.

There are other attributes for riparian areas, such as providing migratory pathways for terrestrial and avian wildlife, bank stabilization, and erosion prevention. Riparian areas also serve as flood control, which becomes especially important in urban areas.

Riparian habitats are for wildlife

Northern Flicker

Riparian corridors refer to the continuous land area on each side of the waterway, from its origin to its mouth. This specialized corridor provides food, shelter, and movement for many species of wildlife. These are land and water habitats that support numerous critters, big and small. The tree canopy next to the waterway maintains a cool temperature for fish and aquatic life, with healthy dissolved oxygen levels. Riparian land is naturally a biodiverse landscape, where many kinds of plants exist to support the food web—aquatic, subaquatic, terrestrial and avian life.

Why we need riparian renewal

We need riparian renewal to regain these specialized lands’ natural beauty, quality, purpose, and function. We renew riparian habitats on Richland Creek to support the environment for water, wildlife, trees and the community.

Over the decades gone by, riparian habitats’ natural function, health, quality and biodiversity have diminished due, in great part, to the takeover of invasive species. Invasive takeover leaves the habitat with few native species able to sprout and survive.

RCWA has been renewing riparian habitats since 2012. In the land areas taken over by invasive plants, we’ve noticed little to no air circulation and zero accessibility to or visibility of the waterway. These riparian areas are dominated primarily by three invasive species that are evergreen, which take away space, sunlight, and water from native plants. The first step of renewal on these lands is to selectively remove these invading species and replant with native trees. We return to these habitats to evaluate the changes after the renewal process. Now there is a breeze, visibility of and accessibility to the waterway, and way more wildlife activity. Before, birds couldn’t hunt the forest floor, due to woody vines in the tree canopy and all the invasive species inundating the forest floor. Once renewal is completed, birds can find a perch to hunt the forest floor and build a nest in the canopy, restoring a vital relationship in this ecosystem.

Healthy riparian corridors benefit people too

Riparian areas are not only habitats, but they also serve the urban area and the people around them. For example, the roots of trees and other vegetation on the waterway stabilize streambanks, and the bottomlands naturally filter out pollution. When riparian corridors are preserved with adequate land space to each side of the waterway, they also serve as flood control. It’s natural for a waterway to swell and rest (flood). As you may imagine, flood protection and mitigation are very important in urban areas, where there’s more people. Maintaining these specialized lands provides direct benefits to people, such as clean water, flood control, recreation, and the satisfaction of preserving wildlife habitat. This is the land’s natural purpose.

Volunteer for a riparian renewal project

We conduct riparian renewal projects from October to mid-March, and provide participants with valuable knowledge that they can take home. This is important, because the three primary invasive species have spread throughout the watershed. As a volunteer, you will learn how to identify these invasive species, safely eradicate them, and plant native trees in your own yard. As a volunteer, you’ll be helping the waterway and its habitat, and learning how to help from home.

There are three ways to find out about our volunteer projects! You can sign up for our volunteer list to receive notifications in your inbox, you can sign up for our monthly eNews, or you can periodically check our Events page. We look forward to seeing you all there!

Richland Creek Watershed Alliance. All rights reserved. Richland Creek Watershed Alliance is a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation.