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Regulated Riparian Habitat

What is Riparian Habitat?

Riparian Habitat is the community of plants found along washes, watercourses and floodplains. 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 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 Protection Goal

By preserving riparian habitat the District ensures the long-term stability of natural floodplains which allows for the survival of plants and animals indigenous to Pima County. Riparian habitat provides many community benefits, including:

  • Reduced risk of flooding and erosion
  • Biological 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 by avoiding and minimizing disturbance to Regulated Riparian Habitat. When avoidance and minimization cannot occur the Ordinance  requires mitigation when  disturbances of 1/3 acre or more to RRH. Mitigation Guidelines found in the Riparian Habitat tab of the Rules and Procedures page and outline the process for developing property containing RRH.

Riparian Classification Maps (RCM) were developed in 1994 to protect riparian habitat associated with floodplains and updated in 2005 as part of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.  The updated RCM have ten different classifications of riparian habitat and are based on plant species diversity, vegetation density and availability of water.  Riparian Habitat Classification Photos have been compiled to help visualize what each habitat classification type looks like.

To determine if your property contains RRH, please view the Riparian Classification Map.

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.