Riparian Area: Filtration of Nitrogen


Our environment is very delicate and efforts should be taken to ensure its safety. There are several pollutants that the environment is subjected to, most of which are caused by man. This condition is more adverse in urban set ups where population is large and waste management is a challenge. Zanetti (19) defines ecology as the relationship that exists between living organisms and their environment and amongst themselves. An ecosystem is a society of both living and non living organisms, all playing their different roles in ensuring that life continues in that system (Weiss 22). Both the living and non living organisms have a role to play in maintaining the balance needed in that ecosystem.

There are various habitats for various living organisms. Each habitat has specific characteristics that make it appropriate for specific living organisms. These characteristics must be maintained if the organisms in that habitat are to survive. These characteristics include type of soil and its structure; the potential hydrogen of the soil, water, temperatures, nitrogen concentration among other requirements. Any alteration of these characteristics would change the habitat; hence render it inappropriate for some or all of its current inhabitants (Cleppe 31).

Riparian areas are such habitats. Riparian area is that environment along a river. They are home to various living organisms. Other than this, they are also important in providing rivers with shade, thereby reducing the rate of transpiration. They act as filters to the run off and underground water before they are introduced into the river, eliminating contaminants that could be available. This makes this region very important not only to the organisms staying in them, but also those that depend on the river for survival (Pyle 18).

If polluted, the contamination may easily find its way to the water, depending on the type of terrain and the vegetation it has. This project therefore seeks to investigate the effect of terrain, and ground cover on nitrogen filtration. The researcher intends to ascertain the effectiveness of rock and grass in lowering the concentration of nitrogen in two different terrains (sand and soil) and ground cover (grass and rocks) on filtration of nitrogen in a riparian hillside.


The researcher was guided by the following objectives throughout this research project:

  • To determine the effectiveness of different terrains, specifically sand and soil, in filtering nitrogen and other pollutants, before the run off and underground water is introduced into the river.
  • To determine the effect of rocks and grass in the process of filtration of water before its introduction into the river
  • To investigate the effect of nitrogen influx to the organisms living in the riparian areas.
  • To develop a report that will reflect on the general effects of pollutants to the rivers, and the mechanisms which riparian areas use to counter such pollutants from adversely polluting the rivers.


Nitrogen is one of the most important and most abundant elements on earth. Nitrogen plays an important role in the manufacturing of important nutrients like proteins and fats. Every living organism can not live without this element. The element has a cycle, known as nitrogen cycle that ensures that its percentage concentration in water, soil, air and on organisms is regulated. This is specifically so because its overconcentration is poisonous. It is therefore important that run off and underground water are deprived of nitrogen. Different terrains have different capabilities in filtering away nitrogen from water before it can be allowed into the river because of their different characteristics (Klein 6).

Filtration of nitrogen is least perfect on a clay soil. This is so because this type of soil always maintains water runoffs to the surface, making it move down the slope. This is even worse when the slope is steep, like on a hillside. The water will take a very short duration for it to reach its destination (Agarwal 7). Moreover, this flow will be very smooth, ensuring that all the contents of the runoff are maintained without any breakage. This will in effect transfer all the contents of the runoff into the river. The particles of this soil are very small, and therefore allows very limited amount of water to infiltrate it. It will transfer a higher percentage of runoff water on its surface, other than underground.

Sand has very large particles. It has very limited capacity to hold water to its surface. In case of runoff water, sand will have the highest percentage of it infiltrated deep inside. This in effect, will lower the speed of the moving water as it is subjected to different obstacles. The limited movement of water under the ground, and the constant obstacles it has to go through, will in turn allow for the deposits of the nutrients, which are rich in nitrogen, to remain on rocks found underneath the soil. This will effectively lower the rate at which nitrogen rich compounds are introduced into the rivers. Once inside the soil, there are other factors that will reduce the level of nitrogen. Nitrogen fixing bacteria are found in the soil. If this water reaches them, they will convert a percentage of nitrogen found in it to nutrients that are useful to plants and other animals found in the soil. It is therefore worth noting that sand would act as a better filter on nitrogenous compounds in the runoff water as opposed to soil, especially the small particle soil.


Both the rock and grass are very important in the process of nitrogen filtration. Some grasses have bacteria in their root nodules. These bacteria are very vital in converting nitrogen into nutrients needed by the grass (Whitefield 39). This means that both the grass and the bacteria on its root nodule will play a direct role in reducing the level of nitrogen in the runoff water. The grass will reduce the speed of water on the surface, trapping some of the nitrogen rich substances that could have been swept away by the running water (Louise 12). This also helps in reducing water pollution. Presence of grass on the soil surface however, reduces chances of runoff water getting into the soil for further infiltration.

Rocks will destruct the normal flow of water. They cause disturbances into the normal flow of runoff water, and in some cases water falls. These disturbances will break particles of nitrogenous substances in water. The broken substances will then settle on the rocks or become part of the soil; hence they do not reach the river. Just like vegetations, rocks also slow the rate of water flow, allowing for its infiltration into the soil. Through this, pollution rate into the rivers are reduced.

Works Cited

Agarwal, Samuel. Water Pollution. New York: APH Publishing, 2005. Print.

Cleppe, Peder. Survey of Water Utilization and Waste Control Practices in the Southern Pulp and Paper Industry. North Carolina: State University, 2010. Print.

Klein, Luis. River Pollution. Michigan: Butterworths, 2010. Print.

Louise, James. America’s Garden Book. New York: Macmillan, 1996. Print.

Pyle, Stuart. Interagency Planning Coordination on the Upper Eel River Development. New York: The Group, 2011. Print.

Weiss, Charles. The Relative Significance of Phosphorus and Nitrogen as Algal Nutrients. North Carolina: Water Resources Research Institute, 2010. Print.

Whitefield, Patrick. The Earth Care Manual. New York: Permanent Publications, 2004. Print.

Zanetti, Enrique. The Significance of Nitrogen. Michigan: The Chemical foundation, incorporated, 2007. Print.

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