Friday, February 21, 2020

Penn State Extension: Riparian Buffers: Using The Power Of Plants To Help Clean Our Waterways

Buffers are an easy way to help improve water quality in our local rivers and streams.
Pennsylvania has over 86,000 miles of rivers and streams flowing through the Commonwealth. From a creek in your backyard to the mighty Ohio River, waterways are abundant. 
As these waterways crisscross our landscape, they also serve as collection points for stormwater runoff after rain events. 
Anything that the rain can pick up as it flows over the ground – sediment, garbage, pesticides, fertilizer, road salt, pet waste, manure-- will eventually make their way to our waterways potentially presenting health risks to water systems, or harming the ecology of streams.
If the areas surrounding our waterways consist of bare soil or unplanted areas, there is very little to slow down the flow of these potential pollutants. This is where the power of plants, and more specifically riparian buffers come into play. 
Riparian buffers are vegetated areas next to streams, wetlands, ponds rivers and lakes that can reduce negative impacts of runoff and disturbed soils. Grasses, flowering plants, shrubs, and trees can all be part of a buffer that will provide benefits for the waterway.
Plants and their root systems act as natural filters as they trap sediment and potential pollutants heading toward waterbodies. 
Roots help to hold soil in place and stabilize streambanks which also reduces the impacts of flooding and improves stream habitat. Waterways shaded by trees also provide a more favorable habitat for fish and other aquatic life.
Riparian buffers are something that can have an impact to improve waterways even when done on a small scale around a pond or near your backyard stream. 
Consider leaving an un-mowed area along your stream bank or around a pond. This area can be left to grow naturally, or it can be a place where you can plant native perennials or shrubs that will aid in filtration of runoff. 
Planting riparian buffers on your own property does not require a permit. There are resources available from Penn State Extension, and elsewhere to help you decide which native plants and shrubs would work best for your area.
[To learn more about buffers, visit DCNR's Riparian Buffer webpage.]

(Reprinted from Penn State Extension Watershed Winds newsletter.  Click Here to sign up for your own copy.)

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[Posted: February 21, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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