There are many definitions of riparian buffer. In this post and the video linked here, we offer the elements of a well-functioning buffer and show what they look like. Riparian buffers are one of the most effective Best Management Practices to abate non-point source water pollution. The word “riparian” comes from Latin and means “adjacent to water.”
I learned about buffers and effective buffer widths when I worked for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, but I did not know how crucial native tree leaves were to the aquatic ecosystem until I heard Dr. Bern Sweeney talk about his research at the Stroud Water Research Center. Did you know that macroinvertebrates are “leaf” specific? Visit their website to learn more about it.
Our farm is in the Middle River watershed – at the beginning of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. If we had well-functioning riparian buffers along all our streams, we could de-list our River from the state’s dirty waters list or the TMDL. Farmers have been installing riparian buffers for a long time, and that is partly why agriculture is halfway to doing its part to restore the Chesapeake Bay. They have done this through voluntary programs like the Conservation Reserve Program and each state’s Best Management Practices programs. These are funded through the Farm Bill, EPA, states, and non-profit organizations like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Here’s my definition of a riparian buffer: A vegetated area adjacent to a hydric feature capable of reducing the impact of adjacent land uses and providing the hydric feature with sufficient inputs to support a healthy aquatic ecosystem.
Riparian buffers need to be wide enough to do the job, meaning the plants in the buffer take up or filter out pollutants entering the buffer. Scientists believe the minimum width needs to be between thirty-five and one hundred feet on both sides of the stream or hydric feature. It must be stocked with native trees with a sufficient density to create canopy closure, and Livestock must be excluded from the buffer area.
Contact your local USDA office, local Soil and Water Conservation District, or me to find out more about riparian buffers.