A new report highlights the role of riparian buffers, strips of forested land along water bodies, in clean-water efforts, including the prevention of fish kills and algal blooms.
This week, North Carolina lawmakers considered bills which threaten to do away with riparian buffer protections. The buffers, which prevent development within 50 feet of rivers, lakes and streams, were originally created after dangers algal blooms and fish kills in the Neuse River basin during the 1990s. Riparian buffers help prevent pollutants, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, from entering waterways.
The report, which analyzed the effectiveness of buffer rules, had two key findings:
- Buffer width is effective in reducing nitrogen, a key player in fish kills.
- Natural vegetation reduces sediment and phosphorous, which contribute to algal blooms.
Policy recommendations from the report include:
- Maintaining 50-foot naturally vegetated structures along streams, rivers, lakes and estuaries in watersheds that are sensitive to pollution.
- Retaining local ordinances that call for wider buffers.
- Combining riparian buffers with measures such as upgrading wastewater-treatment plants, stormwater control standards and runoff reduction to achieve the most effect.
The report was compiled by the North Carolina Conservation Network, Sound Rivers, the Southern Environmental Law Center and American Rivers.