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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: LAND USE AND MANAGEMENT EFFECTS ON ENVIRONMENTAL PROCESSES AND HYDROLOGY IN COASTAL PLAIN WATERSHEDS Title: Generalizing Riparian Zone Function at the Landscape Scale

Authors
item Vidon, Philippe - INDIANA UNIV.PURDUE UNIV.
item Allan, Craig - UNIV OF NC-CHARLOTTE
item Lowrance, Robert

Submitted to: Water Resources Impact
Publication Type: Trade Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: May 15, 2008
Publication Date: July 1, 2008
Citation: Vidon, P., Allan, C., Lowrance, R.R. 2008. Generalizing Riparian Zone Function at the Landscape Scale. Water Resources Impact. 10:12-14.

Interpretive Summary: Riparian (streamside ) zones are the areas extending from the edges of water bodies to the edges of the land. Riparian zones serve as the interface between upland forested areas, fertilized croplands and most land uses and fresh water systems. Although riparian zones may only represent a small area in the landscape, they are perhaps the most important part of the landscape and they can have a large impact on water pollution. Vegetated riparian zones are recommended best management practices by federal and local agencies worldwide to mitigate the impact of non-point source pollution on stream water quality. Nevertheless, the cumulative effect of riparian zones on water quality at the watershed scale remains poorly understood. For instance, even though nitrogen (N) dynamics in riparian zones are relatively well studied few generalizations can be made. There is also a need to synthesize current knowledge and perhaps conduct further field studies examining water pollution movement through riparian zones during episodic large precipitation/snowmelt events. Stream incision, tile drainage, and urban water and sewer infrastructure also impact water pollution in riparian zones. We need to synthesize current knowledge on the impact of human activities on riparian zone function in both urban and rural landscapes and also need to determine major gaps in knowledge impeding our ability to quantify the impact of human modifications to the environment on riparian zone function. A special session at the 2008 American Water Resources Association Summer Specialty Conference will focus on these uncertainties, based on results of a National Science Foundation sponsored conference held earlier in 2008. In particular, this session will be composed of a series of presentations organized around the following themes and followed by a panel discussion 1) development of a conceptual framework identifying major riparian zone types and roles as a function of their position in the landscape; 2) recent advances regarding the impact of vegetation on riparian zone function; 3) recent advances regarding the characterization and the importance of extreme events transport or processing of pollutants in riparian zones; 4) recent advances in our understanding of how expansion of stream channels during storm events affects riparian zone function in managed landscapes; 5) recent advances in understanding the controls by riparian ecosystems on dissolved organic matter export from watersheds.; and 6) recent advances regarding riparian zone modeling.

Technical Abstract: Riparian zones can be broadly defined as semi-terrestrial areas regularly influenced by freshwater, and normally extending from the edges of water bodies to the edges of upland communities. Riparian zones occupy a critical position between terrestrial uplands and fresh water systems and serve as the interface between upland forested areas, fertilized croplands and most land uses and fresh water systems. Although riparian zones may only represent a small area in the landscape, they are perhaps the most important element of the hydrological landscape given that they can act as a conduit, transformer, and barrier for nutrients and other potential water pollutants between upland communities and stream ecosystems. Overall, because of their role in stabilizing streambanks and potential role as nutrient/contaminant sinks in the landscape, vegetated riparian zones are recommended best management practices by federal and local agencies worldwide to mitigate the impact of non-point source pollution on stream water quality). Nevertheless, the cumulative effect of riparian zones on water quality at the watershed scale remains poorly understood. For instance, even though N dynamics in riparian zones are relatively well studied few generalizations can be made. There is also a need to synthesize current knowledge and perhaps conduct further field studies examining nutrient/contaminant fluxes through riparian systems during episodic precipitation/snowmelt events. Stream incision, tile drainage, and urban water and sewer infrastructure also impact both the hydrological and biogeochemical functioning of riparian zones. We need to synthesize current knowledge on the impact of human activities on riparian zone function in both urban and rural landscapes and also need to determine major gaps in knowledge impeding our ability to quantify the impact of human modifications to the environment on riparian zone function. A special session at the 2008 American Water Resources Association Summer Specialty Conference will focus on these uncertainties, based on results of a National Science Foundation sponsored conference held earlier in 2008. In particular, this session will be composed of a series of presentations organized around the following themes and followed by a panel discussion 1) development of a conceptual framework identifying major riparian zone types and roles as a function of their position in the landscape; 2) recent advances regarding the impact of vegetation on riparian zone function; 3) recent advances regarding the characterization and the importance of hot or cold phenomena for transport or biogeochemical reaction rates in riparian zones; 4) recent advances in our understanding of how channel expansion affects riparian zone function in managed landscapes; 5) recent advances in understanding the controls by riparian ecosystems on dissolved organic matter export from watersheds.; and 6) recent advances regarding riparian zone modeling – from the reach scale to the watershed scale

Last Modified: 11/21/2014
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