Riparian buffers are the natural vegetation from the edge of the stream bank several dozen feet onto land. This vegetative zone serves as a buffer to pollutants entering a stream from runoff, controls erosion, and provides habitat and nutrient input into the stream. A relatively undisturbed riparian zone supports a robust stream system; narrow riparian zones occur when roads, parking lots, fields, lawns, bare soil, rocks, or buildings are near the stream bank. Residential developments, urban centers, golf courses, and rangeland are the common causes of anthropogenic degradation of the riparian zone.
Riparian buffers are the most valuable protection a stream system has against outside influences. In most cases healthy riparian directly reflects upon the condition of the stream unless the source of the impairment is a specific pollutant. Enhancement of the riparian buffer by re-planting native grasses, forbs, shrubs and trees is the first step in the recovery of the stream back to a more natural condition. More than 50% of the banks along the Dan River and its tributaries have none to low buffer.
- Provides organic material as food for invertebrate, fish and wildlife
- Supplies large and small pieces of woody debris that provide habitat for fish, invertebrates and amphibians
- Alters how sunlight reaches the stream and is an important temperature moderator
- Stabilizes stream banks and reduces erosion
- Filters sediment and materials from overland runoff and roots of many plants traps and holds the sediments
- Absorbs nutrients from overland and sub-surface flows
- Reduces the impacts of flooding through temporary storage, interception and slow releases from heavy rains.
There are five riparian buffer demonstration sites you can visit to see first-hand how they can help protect our waterways:
- YMCA in Danville, VA protecting the Dan River
- Camilla Williams Park, Danville, VA protecting the Dan River
- DeHart Park in Stuart, VA protecting the Mayo River
- Smith River Greenway in Eden, NC protecting the Smith River
- Beaver Creek Reservoir in Martinsville, VA protecting the Smith River
Look for signs like this at the demonstration sites to learn about different types of buffer.
Camilla Williams Park before riparian buffer
Camilla Williams Park after buffer planting
The Riparian Buffer catalog gives property owners a step by step guide to planting riparian buffer. The Guide highlights buffer types, native vegetation and tips for protecting the water quality in our region.