Riparian resources include the borders of rivers, lakes, ponds, and potholes. These border areas are very important for a number of reasons, including stream channel maintenance, flood control, aesthetics, erosion control, fish and wildlife habitat, recreation, and water quality maintenance. These diverse functions are not well protected by law or policy. We reviewed law and policies regarding endangered species habitat designation, land use planning, grazing management, water allocation, takings, and federal permits and licenses, along with the roles of federal, state, and local governments. We discuss the politics of implementing these policies, focusing on the difficulties in changing entrenched water and land use practices. Our review indicates a lack of direct attention to riparian ecosystem issues in almost all environmental and land use programs at every level of government. Protection of riparian resource values requires a means to integrate existing programs to focus on riparian zones.