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What are stream buffers?

Stream buffers are areas of plants and trees around a stream or river that help maintain the ecosystem and the quality of the water. The buffers are either bits of natural landscape that are purposefully left alone, even when other areas of the stream are being developed, or they are planted there by contractors or conservationists.

A stream buffer works by helping to filter pollutants in storm water runoff. Examples of pollutants that can be caught up in storm water include oil, pesticides, dog waste and fertilizers. Lush plant life on the banks of a stream can trap some of those pollutants before it reaches the water.

Well-planned and maintained stream buffers also protect the surrounding landscape by reducing flooding and erosion. When the banks of a stream or river are stripped of all natural life, there are less roots to hold the soil in place. That causes the banks to erode and fall into the stream, changing the overall landscape.

Stream buffers also help moderate temperature in the water and create shade that is required for certain elements to thrive in the rivers. Animals and fish also make nests and live and feed within the plant life that grows in stream buffer areas.

While all this sounds idyllic, you might wonder what it has to do with land use and zoning. When you are building or developing near a stream, you might need to pay attention to where buffers are or might be required to create or maintain a buffer on the property to help offset the impact of any development. Understanding how land use integrates with natural resource law is important to avoiding fines and delays in development.

Source: Clean Water Education Partnership, "Restore and Maintain Stream Buffers," accessed March 03, 2017

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