Each year, the Illinois River Watershed Partnership works together with our local cities, organizations, businesses, and landowners to plant native tree seedlings along Riparian buffers in both urban and rural areas. We appreciate the many volunteers that help to plant over 3,000 trees and clean-up our streams! This year marks our 8th Annual Riparian Project, which will be held Saturday, March 7, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Check out our website, www.irwp.org to find a planting location near you! 


A riparian buffer is a special zone or area along a creek, stream or body of water that encompasses a very important role in keeping our waterways healthy and maintaining vibrant, diverse aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Riparian buffers are exactly that, a protective “buffer.” A riparian buffer works to clean and filter non-point source pollutants through ecological processes that plants, shrubs and trees mitigate. They can also serve as a water storage area, and are usually situated between the aquatic zone and the upland zone along a waterway.



Section of a typical Riparian buffer.

Source: Lasting Forests

Trees are a very important part of the Riparian buffer. There are many types of trees, especially hardwoods such as Oak (many varieties) , Hickory and Pecan that are pillars of the upland riparian. Trees that love wet feet, like Sycamores, Willows and Bald Cypress thrive in the zones closer to the water’s edge.  Along waterways, roots are especially important to stabilize river banks and can hold land together during periods of flooding. Trees on the river’s edge have a huge and beneficial impact on the biological health of the river too. Invertebrates falling into the water from leaves and branches form up to 90% of the diet for a number of fish. A tree-lined river bank gives shelter and shade to fish. Shade also keeps the growth of water weeds in balance, and regulates the temperature of the water.


A tree-lined river bank gives shelter, shade and food for fish.

Source: IRWP, Chamber Springs Float, Illinois River

Trees are not only good at restoring and protecting our urban and rural waterways, but they play an integral part of the hydrologic cycle. They can intercept rainfall with their canopy, where the leaves and bark hold onto the water until it evaporates into the air or is gradually released to the soil below, which slows the rate of water accumulation on the ground. Tree roots absorb water and have the ability to store and release nutrients, along with filtering pollutants. This can be especially important along urban creeks and streams.


This urban stream has a great riparian established and helps protect the river from erosion, pollutants and helps control flooding.

Source: IRWP, Sweetbriar Park, Fayetteville, AR, Illinois River Watershed

Increased flooding is partly linked to the loss of riparian forests. Floodplain woodlands, including the Riparian buffer, act like a sponge, absorbing and then slowly releasing floodwater, moderating its impact on the landscape. That is why we, as a Partnership, work each year to plant trees along waterways through our Riparian Project, held the first Saturday in March. With the help of volunteers, cities and organizations, we are able to plant 3,000 tree seedlings each year as part of a one-day volunteer project. In addition to the Riparian Project, we also plant 1,000 tree seedlings in 5-gallon pots to be grown and managed at our Flint Creek Power Plant Tree Farm in Gentry, a partnership with AEP SWEPCO to grow trees for conservation projects within the Illinois River watershed.


Tree planting is fun for all ages! Help plant trees for the IRWP Riparian Project.

Source: IRWP

Riparian buffers are important. Trees are important to our watershed health. We hope that you will participate in the many conservation project opportunities, such as the Riparian Project, and enjoy the benefits of doing something that can have a lasting, positive impact in our watershed.


Related Posts:

Clean Water Raingers: Trees Make Better Water

Trees and Water: The Perfect Partnership

Conservation 101 in 2014


Additional Resources:

2014 IRWP Annual Report

2015 IRWP Action Plan

IRWP Homepage