Assessing the potential of riparian reforestation to facilitate watershed climate adaptation

Chin Lung Wu, Steven J. Herrington, Barbara Charry, Maria L. Chu, Jason H. Knouft

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Transformations of forested areas to agricultural and urban uses are known to degrade freshwater ecosystems, in part, because of increased surface runoff and soil erosion. Changes in climate are expected to exacerbate these impacts, particularly through increases and intensification of precipitation events during various times of the year. While decreases in greenhouse gas emissions are ultimately necessary to minimize changes in climate, best management practices (BMPs), such as reforestation, can serve as watershed climate adaptation strategies to mitigate the impacts of changes in air temperature and precipitation. The Meramec River Basin (MRB) in eastern Missouri is of economic and recreational importance and supports high levels of biodiversity. While much of the MRB is forested, various land transformations are increasing sediment inputs throughout the basin, and these contributions are expected to increase as climate changes. To address the potential of riparian reforestation to serve as a climate adaptation strategy in the MRB, we developed a Soil and Water Assessment Tool model to simulate streamflow and sediment transport throughout the basin. We then used model outputs characterizing spatial variation in sediment yields to identify critical source areas (CSAs) at the subbasin level. The application of a riparian buffer BMP was simulated in each CSA to quantify the effectiveness of this strategy in reducing sediment for contemporary conditions (1990–2009) as well as under three future climate scenarios for two time periods, 2040–2059 (mid-century) and 2080–2099 (late-century). For the contemporary period, the simulated addition of a riparian buffer BMP resulted in a projected 12.1% average reduction in surface sediment yield among CSAs. For the mid-century projection, subbasin surface sediment output is projected to increase by an average of 277.5% and 221.8% for the climate change scenario and the climate change + BMP scenario, respectively. In the late-century, respective increases in sediment for CSAs are estimated to be, on average, 690.7% and 528.3% for the climate change scenario and the climate change + BMP scenario. Results suggest that surface sediment yields will increase with climate change even with riparian buffer BMP applications. While adding a riparian buffer can potentially reduce sediment outputs, the reduction, on average, is likely inadequate to fully offset the impacts from changes in climate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number111431
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021


  • Best management practice
  • Climate change
  • Critical source area
  • Freshwater ecosystems
  • Riparian buffer
  • Sediment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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