Value of Stream Buffers

Providing and protecting adequate buffer zones along waterways are essential for a healthy watershed. The buffer zone is the strip of land along the streams edge. A healthy buffer is vegetated with native trees, shrubs, grasses and forbs (flowering plants). This area should be allowed to grow naturally.

A buffer zone along a stream serves as a boundary between the stream and development or agricultural activity. Buffers help protect our resources by filtering pollutants, providing flood control, minimizing stream bank erosion, moderating stream temperatures, providing essential habitat, and providing room for lateral movement of the stream channel. Protecting existing buffer zones and incorporating them in areas where none exist are significant actions for the protection of water quality, and for providing aquatic and terrestrial habitat.

Many municipalities have enacted ordinances that specify the size and management of stream buffers. A strong buffer ordinance that establishes the sizes of buffer areas for different stream orders is only the first step in providing for stream buffers. Municipalities also need an effective buffer program to manage buffer zones and to enforce buffer regulations.

All streams, from first order on up need buffers for effective protection of water quality. First order streams are the smallest streams (the very beginnings of the drainage system) that have no tributary streams. When two first order streams unite, they form a second order stream with third order streams being formed with the union of the first and second order stream tributaries etc.

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