View a video introduction (with sound) on riparian buffers
Vegetate bare and eroding areas of lawn. Sediment is the number source of pollution in North Carolina streams. Sediment covers fine gravel beds that act as aquatic nurseries for insects and fish. In addition, other pollutants, like fecal, bond with sediment, keeping those pollutants in our creeks and streams.
The most effective means of reducing sediment in our streams is a healthy riparian or vegetated buffer.
What is a Riparian Buffer?
Also known as stream buffers or streamside management zones, the term riparian buffer is used to describe the vegetated area of land along the stream bank. A vigorous buffer zone is made up of native grasses, flowers, trees and shrubs and is an important feature of healthy streams and creeks. It serves many important functions for a healthy stream including the reduction of stream bank erosion, keeping sediment out of the stream, providing a valuable habitat for wildlife, slowing floodwaters, filtering out chemical pollutants and litter, and improving overall water quality.
All steams, no matter how small, benefit from a riparian buffer. Small stream feed into bigger streams so the best way to protect a bigger stream is to start by protecting the smaller one.
The greater the buffer width, the greater the protection of water quality and habitat. A good base width is 50 to 100 feet. The width of healthy buffer will very due to different considerations. Slope, width of floodplain, the presence of wetlands or the amount of impervious surface will require an increase in buffer width to maintain water quality protection.
The Purpose of Riparian Buffers
- Reduce erosion and stabilize stream banks
- Encourage infiltration of stormwater runoff
- Control sedimentation
- Reduce the effects of flood and drought
- Provide forest areas to shade streams and encourage desirable aquatic species
- Provide and protect wildlife habitat
- Offer scenic value and recreational opportunity
- Restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of water resources
- Minimize public investment in waterway restoration, stormwater management, and other public water resource endeavors
Schueler, WPT summer 1995