Riparian areas are the places where the water and land meet and interact, giving them unique soil and vegetation qualities, and a vitally important place in watershed management. Riparian areas are important for several reasons: they help regulate water quality, manage flood water, stabilize riverbanks and shorelines, and provide essential habitats for plants and animals. This makes these special ecosystems very important to municipalities by protecting the water supply, preventing damaging erosion, and securing infrastructure, property and people against floods.
“Riparian lands are transitional areas between upland and aquatic ecosystems. They have variable width and extent above and below ground and perform various functions. These lands are influenced by and exert an influence on associated water bodies, including alluvial aquifers and floodplains. Riparian lands usually have soil, biological, and other physical characteristics that reflect the influence of water and hydrological processes.”
- Alberta Water Council
To function effectively, riparian areas need to be healthy. Unfortunately, development is putting many of these areas across the province at risk. Development in riparian areas can compromise riparian function, causing alterations in drainage, decreased bank or shoreline stability, increased pollutants, and more. This makes riparian area management an important task for municipalities.
Graphic source: Regional District of Nanaimo
AUMA Policy on Riparian Areas
AUMA members expressed concerns regarding riparian areas in the 2014 AUMA Stormwater Policy Paper. Specifically, urban municipalities are concerned that the Municipal Government Act does not grant sufficient powers to protect riparian areas or establish sufficient buffers to protect water bodies. Members resolved to urge that the Act be amended to add “protecting the function of riparian areas” to the list of purposes outlined as qualifications for establishing areas as environmental reserves.
Resources and examples of riparian area management
Alberta Water Council – in 2013, created the Riparian Land Conservation and Management Report and Recommendations. The purpose of this report was to enhance knowledge and provide recommendations for effective conservation and management of riparian lands in support of Alberta Water for Life goals. AUMA participated in the process, expressing municipal concerns and issues in riparian management.
Government of Alberta - created a basic fact sheet useful for providing information about riparian areas and riparian area management.