Riparian Zones In Danger!

In an ideal world, riparian management policies will be enshrined in a voluntarily agreed but nonetheless legally binding covenant made between landowners and their local authority. A conservation covenant–otherwise known as a conservation easement–will help to ensure perpetuity of good practice should land title change ownership.

Unfortunately, too often human need takes priority over conservation–urban and economic expansion in the Southwest has sealed the fate of many riparian zones along the Colorado River, for example. Yet should our need give state authorities the license to take without putting back? When water is diverted or drained, and natural riparian zones are destroyed, can they not be replaced at some point–or in the case of water diversion, created from scratch–under the direction of a green economic policy?

How Do We Rebuild A Riparian Zone?

We must remember that lost riparian zones can be found again. Certainly, it takes time for vegetation and wildlife to recover, but with sufficient willpower (a.k.a. pressure from angry citizens), it is not inconceivable for state authorities to find the time and resources to make riparian recovery a reality.

As long ago as 1997, the Iowa State University (ISU) Department of Forestry laid out a ground plan for creating and maintaining a riparian zone–or in its words, a buffer strip–from scratch. Convinced of the necessity to rebuild buffer strips in the Midwest because of losses to agriculture and urban development, ISU’s research showed riparian recovery is possible through good planning and commitment to long-term maintenance[2].

ISU’s work relied upon several sources of public and charitable funding. Today, there is still no concerted federal effort to fund definitive research into the protection and regeneration of riparian zones. We have many useful resources, but still questions remain unanswered or not fully explained: How rapidly are riparian zones diminishing? How is our economic dependence upon land and water harming riparian zones? Which species’ survival wholly or partially depends upon riparian zone survival?

To preserve our riparian zones and riverbanks for future Mark Twains, we must act together by pressuring authorities for greener policies, and by doing our part to reduce domestic and commercial pollution. As Twain said of the aqueous environment, “Water is an individual, an animal, and is alive.” It’s up to us to keep it that way.

Jamie Gletherow is a freelance writer, outdoor enthusiast, native Londoner and regular contributor to Parks & Rec Business magazine. You can reach him via e-mail at

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