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Riparian Habitat Protection

What is Riparian Habitat?

Riparian Habitat is the community of plants found along watercourses or washes. Riparian habitat can range from a narrow band of grasses and shrubs along an ephemeral desert wash to a closed canopy of large mature trees along a perennial stream. Riparian habitat differs from adjacent upland areas by having different soil types, higher soil moisture, larger plant size and quantity, and/or more diverse plant species. Riparian areas are of particular importance to wildlife, providing food, nesting habitat, cover, and migration or movement corridors. Riparian vegetation slows flood flows, provides erosion protection for river banks, improves water quality, and provides numerous economic benefits, recreational opportunities, and aesthetic values. Riparian Habitat Classification Photos have been compiled to help visualize what each habitat classification type looks like.

Riparian Habitat Protection Goal

The District seeks to protect riparian habitat for future generations and to maintain the area’s quality of life for residents of Pima County. By preserving riparian habitat we ensure the long-term stability of natural floodplains which allows for the survival of plants and animals indigenous to Pima County. Riparian areas provide many community benefits, including:

  • Reduced risk of flooding and erosion
  • Riparian Corridors support higher biological diversity by providing places for wildlife to live and forage, as well as providing connectivity to other areas that both plants and animals need to maintain viable populations and genetic diversity.
  • Recreational opportunities
  • Increased groundwater recharge
  • Improved water quality
  • Higher property values along open space and river corridors
  • Reduced public expenditures on flood control projects and protection of infrastructure


Habitat Protection Tools

Riparian Habitat protection is achieved through both regulation and management. The riparian protection regulations are found in Chapter 16.30 of the Floodplain Management Ordinance (Ordinance). The Ordinance is structured to protect regulated riparian habitat (RRH) from development and requires mitigation for disturbances to habitat that exceed 1/3 acre. Mitigation Guidelines found in the Riparian Habitat tab of the Rules and Procedures page outline the process for developing property containing RRH and provide guidance on how to mitigate for impacts. To determine if your property contains RRH, please view the Riparian Classification Maps.

In an effort to educate the public about the benefits of riparian habitat, the District mails riparian brochures to property owners whose property contains RRH.  The brochure explains the benefits of riparian habitat, defines uses that impact habitat, and what actions a property owner can take to protect habitat on their property.  This educational outreach is an ongoing effort, with future mailings planned.

The management portion of the riparian protection program includes land acquisitionwater management, land stewardship, habitat restoration, and monitoring the health of Pima County’s riparian ecosystems. With protected open space there are many benefits to the land, water, and quality of life for Pima County residents.

Please see the Riparian Habitat Classification Photos page for examples of what each type of RRH typically looks like.