A Magazine about the Hudson Valley’s local economy, published by Hudson Valley Current.

Dynamic Riparian Zones: Nature’s Filtration System

by Andrew Faust
Riparian technically means any place where land meets water. These zones are the last stand for water ecology. When streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes are devoid of a diversified tree community along their banks, they are ecologically impaired. To have a historically informed perspective, you must remember that prior to colonial contact all the waterways in the New World were densely forested.
A well-maintained riparian zone.
In order to grasp the reasons for disturbance along streams and rivers you must look at the entire drainage basin that flows into that waterway during a rain event. The further downstream you are and the more denuded the upland landscape of that waterway is, the less effective your stream re-vegetation work will be. In order to solve systemic water hydrology realities, you have to start at the headwaters of the waterway and reforest the edge within at least 150 feet, ideally more like 500 feet. Any less than 150 is a token gesture that will be ecologically insignificant. These areas have come to be called buffer zones because they can slow high petro-chemical pollution loads from inundating the waterways. According to the EPA, the single largest source of nonpoint pollution (i.e.  pollution that comes from many diffuse sources, carried by water moving over and through the ground) in the U.S. is agricultural runoff.
Silt and sediment are the two worst forms of water pollution nationwide, according to the EPA, and riparian zones significantly help to mitigate them from getting into our waterways.
Ashokan Watershed Stream Managment Program Awards Funding
 
Locally, the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County, the DEP, and the county’s Soil and Water Conservation District have collaborated to form the Ashokan Watershed Stream Program (AWSMP). According to their website, “the pro­gram aims to improve stream sta­bil­ity and reduce ero­sion threats to water qual­ity and infra­struc­ture, mit­i­gate poten­tial dam­age from flood­ing, and enhance aquatic and ripar­ian habi­tat.”
The Ashokan Watershed Stream Management Program (AWSMP) has awarded $195,840 to support four stream management projects in the Towns of Shandaken and Olive. The Stream Management Implementation Fund is administered by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County. New project awards include:
 •The Ulster County Department of Public Works is awarded $63,000 to engineer and design a streambank stabilization project along County Route 42 in the Town of Olive.
•The Town of Shandaken is awarded $90,000 to complete design and construction of streambed grade control in Fox Hollow Creek at the Town’s Herdman Road bridge.
•The Catskill Center for Conservation and Development is awarded $9,000 to construct a riparian pollinator’s demonstration garden at the Maurice D. Hinchey Catskill Interpretive Center.
•The Ashokan Center is awarded $33,840 to develop a Riparian Rangers After School Enrichment Program for seventh and eighth graders of the Onteora School District.

 

The AWSMP awards grants annually to municipalities, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and educational institutions on a competitive basis. The grants allow communities to address the highest priority needs identified in stream management and flood hazard mitigation plans. Since 2009, the AWSMP has awarded $2.3 million for stream management implementation projects in the Ashokan watershed.
The efforts in the Ashokan are a great start—a decade ago, no one even was talking about re-vegetating riparian zones. However, from a permaculture perspective, the program lacks comprehensive analysis and a model that addresses the whole watershed from the top down.
Also, these projects should be paying attention to endemic (specific to the place) ecological communities and inter-planting them with nut trees—American Chestnut, Hazelnut, and Hickory—and fruits like paw paw and persimmon that are native and edible. As an eco-idealist, I posit that ecology for ecology’s sake is actually misanthropic, as it sees people as a problem. Many people want to create a voyeuristic version of nature where we, the general public, just look at it. The more rewarding and sustainable approach would be to create an ecology from which we can actually harvest super nutritious food, fiber, building materials, and medicine.
Culturally we still suffer from idea that ecology and economy are mutually exclusive, meaning you can not protect ecological health and get a harvest. If we are to shift from a culture that is prematurely killing itself in preventable and inglorious ways from our addiction to toxic materials to a culture that is using local natural resources to provide more of its material and energy needs, we must evolve. We must evolve past the antiquated question of what to reforest rivers and streams with to a utilitarian and ecological assemblage of plant communities—creating landscapes of posterity for future generations to inherit and appreciate our forward-thinking legacy of abundance!

 

Since 2008, Adrew has run a permaculture design consultation business, The Center for Bioregional Living, in Ellenville, NY with his partner Adriana Magana as a pilot campus for his students, clients, and baby daughter Juniper. Learn more at https://www.facebook.com/permaculturenewyork.