Importance of Riparian Buffers

Riparian Buffer

Riparian buffers are the natural vegetation from the edge of the stream bank out through the riparian zone. The vegetative zone serves as a buffer to pollutants entering a stream from runoff, controls erosion, and provides habitat and nutrient input into the stream. A relatively undisturbed riparian zone supports a robust stream system; narrow riparian zones occur when roads, parking lots, fields, lawns, bare soil, rocks, or buildings are near the stream bank. Residential developments, urban centers, golf courses, and rangeland are the common causes of anthropogenic degradation of the riparian zone.

Riparian buffers are the most valuable protection a stream system has against outside influences. In most cases healthy riparian directly reflects upon the condition of the stream unless the source of the insult is a specific pollutant. Enhancement of the riparian buffer by re-planting native grasses, forbs, shrubs and trees is the first step in the recovery of the stream back to a more natural condition. Some of the many benefits of a healthy riparian buffer are listed below. Can you think of more?


  • Provides organic material as food for invertebrate, fish and wildlife
  • Supplies large and small pieces of woody debris that provide habitat for fish, invertebrates and amphibians
  • Alters how sunlight reaches the stream and is an important temperature moderator
  • Stabilizes stream banks and reduces erosion
  • Filters sediment and materials from overland runoff and roots of many plants traps and holds the sediments
  • Absorbs nutrients from overland and sub-surface flows
  • Reduces the impacts of flooding through temporary storage, interception and slow releases from heavy rains

Additional Information

  • WV Wetland and Riparian Flora
    • Description: The purpose of this resource is to provide an introduction to wetland and riparian flora found in this region.
  • Management of Riparian Areas
    • Description: The condition of the nation's riparian areas represents the outcome of decades of local and basinwide land use, often with little understanding of how various practices might impact these valuable and productive systems.
  • Riparian-Zone Restoration
    • Description: Riparian-zone restoration is the ecological restoration of riparian-zone habitats of streams, rivers, springs, lakes, floodplains, and other hydrologic ecologies. A riparian zone or riparian area is the interface between land and a river or stream.
  • Riparian Restoration
    • Description: Riparian areas are commonly impacted by human activities such as urban development, agriculture, and timber harvest. Each of these categories of land-use is a cause for removal of riparian vegetation, and also a contributor of impacts to the stream environment that would be mitigated by riparian function.
  • Understanding the Science Behind Riparian Forest Buffers: Effects on Water Quality
    • Description: Over a third of our nation's streams, lakes, and estuaries are impaired by some form of water pollution (U.S. E.P.A. 1998). Pollutants can enter surface waters from point sources, such as single source industrial discharges and waste-water treatment plants; however, most pollutants result from nonpoint source pollution activities, including runoff from agricultural lands, urban areas, construction and industrial sites, and failed septic tanks.
  • Restoration Planting Tool
    • Description: Match your restoration site characteristics with corresponding native plant communities. Get a list of plants that are pre-adapted to your site, likely to thrive with minimal maintenance, and provide important habitat for birds, butterflies, and other native species.

 Riparian Magic