What is a riparian area?

Riparian area basic vegetation image p42

This illustration shows the transition from upland
to riparian to aquatic zones. Image: Cows & Fish.

In a nutshell: Riparian areas are the transition areas between the aquatic (water) and terrestrial (uplands) lands, where the extra water results in moist soils supporting water-loving vegetation. They are the green belts you see around rivers, lakes, wetlands, and streams.

The technical definition: 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)

Riparian areas vary across the province and between natural regions. They are:

  • Defined by various ecological characteristics

  • May be influenced by a number of natural and human-caused factors

  • Can be hard to define how big or wide any given riparian area is

DID YOU KNOW?

Click on the images below to enlarge.

Examples of riparian areas
A riparian zone lies between a river and an urban settlement in the Boreal Forest region 
A riparian belt runs through a city in Central Alberta's Parkland region
Riparian shoreline runs along a summer village in the
Central Parkland region
Dots differentiate between upland, riparian and aquatic zones
A green belt stretches between
this Boreal lake and cropland in
northern Alberta
Riparian areas stand out in stark contrast to the surrounding grasslands in southern Alberta
Patches of wetland riparian
zones stand out among gold 
Prairie Parkland crops
Streamside riparian areas flank creeks in the foothills of the Rockies
A lush riparian zone borders drier
Grassland areas
A riparian belt runs through a city in Central Alberta's Parkland region
A riparian zone lies between a river and an urban settlement in the Boreal Forest region 

To read more about riparian areas, please visit Cows and Fish at
https://cowsandfish.org/what-is-riparian/

To find out more about who manages riparian areas, see the Jurisdiction page.

All of the above photos are courtesy of Cows and Fish (www.cowsandfish.org), except for the following: Top middle: Red Deer - Aerial - downtown bridges.jpg (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Red_Deer_-_Aerial_-_downtown_bridges.jpg); Middle right: Aerial view of Fort McMurray: Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fort_mcmurray_aerial.jpg); Bottom left: Mulhurst Bay Pigeon Lake Alberta Canada (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mulhurst_Bay_Pigeon_Lake_Alberta_Canada_02A.jpg).