Benefits and Functions of Riparian Buffer Zones

Reduce/Control Flooding

B&W line drawing: Reduce/Control Flooding

Healthy riparian buffer zones contain many trees and other vegetation which slow and absorb flood waters. This reduces the likelihood of floodwaters reaching downstream areas that may be heavily populated and developed.

Improve Water Quality

B&W line drawing: Water Quality

When streams or rivers overflow their banks due to flooding, riparian zones slow these waters, causing them to drop much of the sediments and nutrients they were carrying in suspension. Trees and other vegetation trap and absorb this, promoting further growth and increasing the density of root systems. This further increases the flood slowing capability of the riparian area. High levels of certain nutrients and minerals can be damaging to downstream life. Healthy, stable riparian buffers work to prevent this.

Water Storage

B&W line drawing: Water Storage

Stream/riverbeds and the soil of riparian buffers play an important role in the storage and filtering of groundwater. During spring thaws and other periods of flooding, they absorb water through many different cracks and pores quite readily, storing it as groundwater, allowing it to slowly percolate back into our water supply. This “storage” helps with stream flow later in summer when water levels can be low. We rely on this mechanism for much of our water.

Shade Cover

B&W line drawing: Shade

The often dense networks formed by trees and other plants in riparian buffers provide excellent shade and cool cover for animals large and small. The combination of vegetative cover and the reduced water temperatures that such cover brings to riparian areas provide temperature relief for many birds and other animals.