What you should know
In order for water bodies to function as productive parts of your farm, you need to include them in your land management decisions. The key to maintaining healthy water bodies is understanding how their riparian areas work and understanding the impact of land use practices on water body environmental benefits.
Flowing and non-flowing water bodies
Flowing water bodies such as creeks, streams and rivers can be both year-round and intermittent. Non-flowing water bodies are areas of land covered by water frequently enough to support aquatic plants in at least some years. They range from temporary to permanent and include wetlands, sloughs, marshes, swamps and lakes. The two things all water bodies have in common are water and a riparian area.
These are lands adjacent to water bodies where the vegetation and soils are strongly influenced by the presence of water.
Riparian area benefits
Riparian areas provide the following benefits:
- They improve and maintain water quality by filtering and trapping sediment and reducing pollutants.
- They provide forage and shelter for livestock under managed conditions.
- They provide temporary storage for runoff water, to control downstream flooding and prevent soil erosion.
- They conserve and recharge groundwater and surface water supplies, reducing the cost of developing new water supply and delivery systems.
- They support biodiversity by providing habitat for many different kinds of plants, birds, animals, insects, microbes and fish that depend on water or wet soils to survive. About 80% of Alberta’s wildlife relies on riparian areas for some or all of their lifecycle requirements.
- Buffer zones. Buffer zones adjacent to riparian areas enhance the benefits of these areas. A buffer zone is a healthy, well-vegetated area along a riparian area. Buffer zones minimize impacts from cultivated fields, wintering sites or other intensively used areas.
Water fluctuation. It is important to recognize that the water levels of all water bodies fluctuate seasonally and annually depending on climatic conditions. This fluctuation also affects the size of the riparian area.
What you can do
- Maintain, enhance, and manage your water bodies and associated riparian areas.
- Restore drained wetlands.
- Recognize that riparian areas are part of all water bodies. Understand their fluctuating nature and manage them accordingly.
- Avoid cultivating in riparian areas. Keep pesticides and fertilizers out of riparian areas. Use buffer zones to enhance riparian benefits.
- Manage livestock access to enhance water bodies, riparian areas and water quality by providing off-site watering. Place livestock shelter, feed and mineral supplements away from riparian areas. Manage grazing duration in riparian areas.
- Complete and implement riparian area management and biodiversity plans.
- Know and understand the legislation that pertains to water bodies. Manage your operation to meet and if possible exceed legislation.
- Use this chapter to see how well you are managing your riparian areas and water bodies.