The Notorious RBZs

April 19, 2022  | By Shoal Creek Conservancy

Wild and woolly, lush and green, riparian buffer zones are the vegetated areas along the banks of a creek or river. Specialized assemblages of riparian trees, shrubs, vines, sedges, rushes, grasses, forbs, and ferns grow here, and together the work that they do plays an important role in creek health. Riparian buffer zones stabilize creek banks and reduce erosion. They absorb floodwater and allow it to re-enter the channel slowly, and they filter sediment and pollutants from runoff that flows overland towards the creek, improving water quality. They also shade the creek, which reduces water temperatures, and they provide valuable wildlife habitat!

Shoal Creek near 15th. Sierra DaSilva 2021


Because the Shoal Creek watershed is highly urbanized, bare soil, impervious cover, and mowed turf grass are common in some of the areas where native riparian flora once grew. The City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department has made citywide efforts to establish Creekside Grow Zones to restore our urban creeks’ riparian buffers and improve creek health. The City also offers a Creekside Design Guide via its Grow Green program to assist creekside homeowners in planting and caring for healthy riparian areas on their own properties.

Grow Zone on Shoal near Shoal Creek Blvd and Shady Oak Ct.
Grow Zone on Shoal near Shoal Creek Blvd and Shady Oak Ct.


Shoal Creek Conservancy’s Watershed Action Plan, a science-based and community-guided effort to improve the health of Shoal Creek, also calls for new riparian plantings to expand and improve Shoal Creek’s riparian buffers. At the end of February, in partnership with TreeFolks and Cirrus Logic, we planted 400 native tree saplings along Shoal Creek between 10th and 11th Streets. This planting benefits a section of riparian buffer that was partially vegetated but degraded by erosion and high foot traffic. Keep an eye out for more opportunities to help with upcoming riparian buffer plantings that will improve the health of Shoal Creek!

The Shoal Creek Watershed Action Plan is a cooperative project funded in part by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality through a Clean Water Act, Section 319(h) Nonpoint Source Management grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.