Riparian Areas

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What on earth is a “riparian”?

 A riparian area or zone refers to the interface between land and freshwater, including streams, rivers, lakes, and estuaries. This strip supports an incredible diversity of aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals. As illustrated below, a fully functioning riparian area benefits everyone.

However, unsurprisingly, human activity and development has significantly degraded and erased healthy riparian areas. With education and awareness about the problems and how we can solve them, these important ecosystems can be restored to their natural and functioning state.

What does a healthy riparian area look like?

We are accustomed to seeing modified riparian zones. By law, the riparian zone is defined as 30 m from the waters edge, and if left untouched, should naturally transition from sedges and rushes to large evergreen trees as shown in the diagram below.

Riparian flora consists of
  • Herbaceous and aquatic plants, such as rushes, sedges, cattails, skunk cabbage and pond lilies that grow in and immediately adjacent to the water.
  • Shrubs such as willows, red-osier dogwood, hardhack and salmonberry, which grow next to the water along banks.
  • Trees such as western red cedar, black cottonwood and red alder, which can grow some distance back from water bodies, but require moist soils.

But grass is considered natural vegetation right?

But grass is considered natural vegetation right?

Maintaining a lawn to the edge of the water has many repercussions. Without a buffer of deeply rooted native vegetation, the bare riparian area is susceptible to erosion, flooding, and greedy invasive species. Lawn just doesn’t cut it.

But I want to be able to see the water!

Large trees play an essential role in riparian areas as their roots filter enormous amounts of water and runoff, and they provide shade and protection for the lake and its inhabitants. One way to maintain a view, if that is a priority, is to plant large trees densely on the sides of your property (in the case of lakefront land) and more sparsely in the area looking out over the water.

An eroded stream bank due to complete lack of deeply rooted vegetation in the riparian area.
 

What can you do to help?
  • Leave a large vegetated buffer between water and land
  • Nurture and plant large trees on your property
  • Remove invasive species such as Himalayan blackberry
  • Reduce the size of your lawn and plant native shrubs and grasses instead
  • Don’t use herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers near the riparian area
  • Dispose of substances such as oil and soapy water in the proper area – not down a storm drain
If you’re interested in how you can help the riparian area on your property or elsewhere, we would be happy to talk with you over the phone (250)710-0227, or by email at info@cowichanlandtrust.ca. We have many resources regarding topics such as invasive removal, bank stabilization, and native planting and livestaking.

RAR (Riparian Area Regulations)
Before making any changes within 30m of any wetland on your property, you will need to consider the RAR in place for your area.

Click here for more info on how the regulations affect you and your property: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/environment/plants-animals-and-ecosystems/fish-fish-habitat/riparian-areas-regulations/rar-brochure-2016_final_web.pdf