Harry Campbell, PA Director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Wednesday presented testimony before the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee to stress the importance of streamside forested buffers as a means for improving and protecting the Commonwealth’s most sensitive and pristine waterways.
The Committee met to discuss House Bill 1565 (Hahn-R-Northampton), which proposes to remove the existing riparian forest buffer requirement for land developments that require erosion and sedimentation control and post-construction stormwater permits when occurring alongside Pennsylvania’s scientifically determined Special Protection Waters.
Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams with the most outstanding water quality, reflected in both water quality chemistry and aquatic life, are afforded the greatest degree of protection, and are designated either High Quality (HQ) or Exceptional Value (EV). Collectively, these streams are often referred to as Special Protection Waters.
“The science is robust, clear, and growing—forested streamside buffers provide a myriad of functions from the protection of drinking water resources to reducing the impacts of flooding, and even support of vital habitat for our economically important game fisheries, said Harry Campbell, CBF Pennsylvania Director. “Establishing or maintaining a streamside forested buffer no less than 150 feet wide for our most pristine streams, is a critical component of reducing pollution and improving water quality.”
For nearly two decades Pennsylvania has invested in restoring streamside forests. Protecting existing forested buffers, while at the same time re-establishing lost buffers, is an integral component of Pennsylvania’s efforts under the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint.
“Without protected and restored streamside forests, the Commonwealth will have difficulty meeting targeted pollution reductions as established in the state Watershed Implementation Plan, and meeting our clean water goals will be far more challenging and costly,” Campbell continued.
Benefits of Buffers
Research has continuously indicated that forested buffers provide significant removal of nonpoint source pollution, such as nitrogen, sediment, and phosphorus—the leading causes of stream degradation in Pennsylvania and the major pollutants impacting the Chesapeake Bay.
While site-specific conditions dictate the effectiveness, many researchers have concluded that buffers can remove upwards of 80 to 90 percent of such contaminants when equal or greater to 100 feet in width.
Forested buffers also help to reduce the costs of treating drinking water. Research has shown that trees play a vital role in maintaining the quality of the water entering drinking water treatment plants and, therefore, reduce the costs of treatment. More than half of all Pennsylvania residents get their drinking water from streams, reservoirs, or lakes, and according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for every $1 that we invest in protecting water quality at the source – we save $27 – the cost of treating that water to be suitable for drinking.
Another cost worth considering is the real, and the human costs associated with floods. Towns across the Commonwealth have suffered the burden of costly repairs to flood protection systems, such as underground pipes and land-consuming detention or infiltration basins. They have also suffered the aftermath of catastrophic floods.
“Hundreds of small towns throughout the Commonwealth deal with these issues every time it rains,” said Campbell. “Increasing development pressures and impermeable surfaces further exacerbate the issue.”
This is where proactive planning and green infrastructure, like streamside buffers, can greatly assist communities in dealing with stormwater problems. A riparian buffer can help to prevent property damage because they capture, absorb, and store amounts of rainfall up to 40 times greater than disturbed soils, like agricultural fields or construction sites, and 15 times more than a typical suburban lawn.
Research has consistently concluded that because of these benefits, those projects which preserve and restore buffer systems often require less or smaller-sized stormwater infrastructure.
Yet one final benefit of buffers worth noting is simply the added value of having trees in our communities.
Studies have shown that the natural character of communities with trees results in increased property values. As an example, in the Pennypack Park area of Philadelphia, the forested stream buffer network was found to increase adjacent property values by an average of 33 percent, with a net increase of more than $3.3 million in real estate values.
“We believe that the forested buffer requirement under Chapter 102 is vital to assuring our most pristine streams are clean and healthy not only today but for future generations, said Campbell. “No other pollution reduction practice provides so much benefit for so little investment.”A copy of the testimony is available online. Click Here for more background on the issue.