The strip of land adjacent to a natural water course such as a river or stream is called the riparian zone. Stream, or riparian buffers, are vegetated areas within the riparian zone. These buffers slow down rain and snow melt runoff that can add nutrients, sediments, and other pollutants to streams. Slowing down runoff water also reduces flooding and stabilizes stream flows. Buffers stabilize stream banks, increase groundwater infiltration and provide cooler water and air temperatures and habitat for many plants and animals.
Natural riparian buffers are composed of grasses, shrubs, and trees. If riparian buffers are maintained or restored, they can exist under most land uses: natural, agricultural, forested, suburban, and urban.
Protecting Riparian Buffers
There is little or no cost involved in protecting existing riparian buffers. Existing buffers can be protected through ordinance requirements, through easement agreements or simply through a conscious effort to decrease mowing and maintain trees and shrubs. All landowners (individuals, businesses and municipalities) should make every effort to preserve riparian buffers and improve them.
Restoring Riparian Buffers
Stream damage can be minimized and water quality enhanced through installing riparian buffers where they have been previously removed. Landowners can plant trees and shrubs in the riparian buffer to begin a restoration project. Restoring forested buffers requires an initial investment in plant materials, tools and labor. However, the long-term cost savings due to decrease mowing requirements for a restored buffered area can be quite significant.
The Weber Stream Restoration Initiative provided funding for tree planting along Duluth's Amity Creek.
Here's a video from a restoration project in Pennsylvania (www.stormwaterpa.org) that shows what a restored buffer looks like and how it benefits a stream.
A lot of information is available for lake shoreline buffers that can readily be applied to stream shorelines. Here are just a few:
The Buffer Zone (PDF)
See the talking goose explain what he likes and doesn’t like at the shore
Keep your shoreline natural - by Cynthia Tomcko, MN DNR
Buffers and Beyond: A Lakescaping Tool for Lake Associations - by Mary Blickenderfer, UM Extension