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Protecting Riparian Areas: Farmland Management Strategies

Protecting Riparian Areas: Farmland Management Strategies

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11/23/2012

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ATTRA is the national sustainable agriculture information service operated by the National Center for Appropriate Technology, through a grant from the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, U.S. Departmentof Agriculture. These organizations do not recommend or endorse products, companies, or individuals.NCAT has offices in Fayetteville, Arkansas (P.O. Box 3657, Fayetteville, AR 72702), Butte, Montana,and Davis, California.
ByBarbara C. BellowsNCAT Agriculture SpecialistMarch 2003S
OIL
S
YSTEMS
G
UIDE
ROTECTING
IPARIAN
REAS
:
 ARMLAND
M
 ANAGEMENT 
S
 TRATEGIES
Riparian areas include streams, streambanks, and wetlands adjacent to streams. These areas havea water table high enough to interact with plant roots and affect their growth throughout most of theyear. Plant species that thrive in riparian areas are adapted to wet and flooded conditions. They arealso adapted to regrow root systems in sedi-ments deposited through soil erosion(Schneider, 1998). Healthy riparian areas are critically im-portant ecological zones. They provide:Water quality protectionStructural support for streambanksWater capture and storageFlood controlStabilization of water flow in streamsand riversHabitat for aquatic and terrestrial wild-lifeAesthetic and recreational benefitsUnfortunately, various land use prac-tices have degraded riparian areas, result-ing in impaired environmental conditions,decreased agronomic production, and a multiplicity of social costs. Both agricultural and non-agricul-tural land use practices are responsible for the degradation of riparian areas. These degrading landuse practices include:
 Abstract: This publication is designed to help farmers, watershed managers, and environmentalists understand whathealthy riparian areas look like, how they operate, and why they are important for the environment and society. It also provides information on the costs and benefits of riparian management and discusses how watershed residents can worktogether to protect this vital resource. Tables included in the publication are designed to help you evaluate riparian protection strategies from the perspective of your local environment, surrounding land use practices, and land managementobjectives.
Intr Intr Intr Intr Intr oduction oduction oduction oduction oduction 
Photo by USDA NRCS
 
//P
ROTECTING
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IPARIAN
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REAS
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ARMLAND
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able of Contentsable of Contentsable of Contentsable of Contentsable of ContentsIntroduction................................................................................1Upland Land Management and Riparian Health...............................3What do Riparian Areas Look Like?................................................5Water and Sediment Capture by Riparian Areas...............................6Table 1. Vegetation Indicators for Riparian Areas........................8Water Decontamination by Riparian Soils.......................................9Table 2. Soil Indicators for Riparian Areas...............................10Riparian Areas and Habitat Preservation.......................................11Table 3. Streambank and Channel Indicators............................12Land Management Practices to Protect Riparian Areas...................13Table 4. Indicators of Aquatic and Riparian Wildlife.................14Community Watershed Collaboration to Protect Riparian Areas......16Summary..................................................................................17References................................................................................17Appendix 1: Impacts of Local Ecology on Riparian........................Characteristics...................................................................22Table A.1. Effect of Stream Order on Natural Riparian..................Characteristics...................................................................23Table A.2. Effect of Rainfall and Temperature on Riparian..............Characteristics...................................................................24Appendix 2: Guidelines for Riparian Area Revegetation.............27Appendix 3: Limited Ability of Riparian Areas to Control PhosphorusMovement into Streams......................................................29Appendix 4: Recommended Buffer Widths...............................30Appendix 5: Economic Costs and Benefits of Riparian Buffer..........Protection.........................................................................32Table A.3. Incentive Programs for Riparian Protection..............34
 
//P
ROTECTING
R
IPARIAN
A
REAS
: F
ARMLAND
M
ANAGEMENT
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TRATEGIES
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AGE
3
Artificial stream widening and straighteningRoad and building construction close tostreamsReplacement of wooded or grassy areas withroads, houses, and parking lots resulting inincreased runoff into streamsUnrestricted grazing or loitering of livestockin or near streamsCrop production activities including plowing,planting, and fertilizer, manure, and pesticideapplications close to streamsThis publication is designed to assist farm-ers, ranchers, watershed managers, homeowners,and community members in understanding theimportance of riparian areas and guide them inimplementing land management practices to im-prove riparian health. Tables included providetools to monitor the conditions of riparian areasduring land restoration processes.
Attached appendices provide detailed infor-mation on subjects addressed in this publi-cation.
Upland LUpland LUpland LUpland LUpland Land and and and and Management and Management and Management and Management and Management and Riparian Health Riparian Health Riparian Health Riparian Health Riparian Health 
Water flows from upland areas through ri-parian areas and eventually into streams.Healthy riparian areas are able to absorb, hold,and use much of the water that flows off fromhealthy upland areas. Healthy riparian areasare also able to chemically and biologically bindor detoxify many contaminants contained inthis water. However, if upland areas are de-graded or covered with roads, parking lots, androoftops that do not allow the water to seep intothe soil, even the healthiest riparian area willbe unable to absorb and filter large volumes ofwater, nutrients, and contaminants flowingthrough it. Therefore, the first step in riparianprotection is ensuring that land managementpractices across the watershed conserve soil andwater resources.Water moves across the landscape in twoways: as groundwater flow and as runoff.
Sub-surface
or
 groundwater 
flow is water that hassoaked into the soil and travels undergroundthrough pores in the soil.
Runoff 
is water thatmoves over the surface of the soil. Whengroundwater or runoff water moves, it absorbsnutrients or contaminants and transports theminto riparian areas and potentially into streams.Runoff water can also transport eroded soil par-ticles.
Groundwater flow Groundwater flow Groundwater flow Groundwater flow Groundwater flow 
.
In most undisturbedwatersheds, a majority of the water flows intoriparian areas and streams as groundwaterrather than as runoff. As rain falls or snowmelts, leaves and other plant residues on the soilsurface catch this water. Pores created by grow-ing plants, decaying plant roots, and animalburrows help the water seep into the soil (Cohen,1997).Once it seeps into the soil, the resultinggroundwater moves relatively slowly under-ground through soil particles until it reaches ri-parian areas and associated streams.
Runoff Runoff Runoff Runoff Runoff 
 
is favored when rain falls faster thanthe ground can absorb it. Water cannot be effec-tively absorbed when soils:Are compacted at the surfaceAre bare, so that the impact of rain drops onthe soil forms a surface crust
Plants in riparian areas filter ground and surface water moving into streams.
(from Huel, 1998.©Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada)
Above ground vegetationtraps sediment andpollutantsFertilizer andpesticide residueFloodwater levelStreamwater levelRunoff reachesstream carrying littlesediment, pesticideand fertilizer residue,making it healthier for plant andanimallifeResidue fromfertilizer andpesticides aretrapped byroot systems
Healthy streambank vegetation

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