Riparian Buffers

Care and maintenance of a riparian buffer

Mowing the grass to the edge of the stream bed actually causes pollution, flooding, and erosion problems. It also allows for invasion of exotic plants that may take over the area.

Even small buffers are important to the water quality and local wildlife. A lawn mowed to the edge of the stream can be created into a buffer by merely not mowing a strip along the streambank. Plants will begin to grow once the area is left alone. If you would like to modify what is there, buy any plant that is native to the western Pennsylvania region, they will be good for the soil and weather.

 (*Source: Three River Habitat Partnership "Streamside Buffers For Your Backyard"

Caring for your buffer

A recognized riparian buffer, such as trees and shrubs, should be kept unharmed since preventing erosion is easier and less costly than repairing it. Thus, the best care of a recognized buffer is often a hands-off approach. If you would rather have a view of the stream, create a "window" of low growing vegetation that also preserves the buffer and corridor for wildlife.

A lawn mowed to the water's edge can be transformed into a buffer by simply not mowing a distance of ten (10') feet on either side to the bank. Gradually, the planted vegetation will begin to grow. To give your buffer a head start, plant native wildflowers, shrubs, or trees. There are many types of vegetation that are native to western Pennsylvania.

Maintaining a buffer distance of at least ten (10') feet on either side of the stream will protect the vegetation and the species of fish, reptiles, and amphibians.

(*Source: Three River Habitat Partnership "Streamside Buffers For Your Backyard"

Top ten benefits of a riparian buffer

  • Increases property value.
  • Improves privacy and tranquility.
  • Stabilizes banks and reduces erosion.
  • Reduces flooding during storms.
  • Filters sediment and pollutants from runoff.
  • Reduces the need for lawn care chemicals.
  • Provides shade for you and the fish.
  • Reduces time spent mowing the lawn.
  • Creates a colorful and eye-catching landscape to live in.
  • Attracts wildlife by providing food and shelter for a variety of birds, mammals, and other animals.

(*Source: Three River Habitat Partnership "Streamside Buffers For Your Backyard")

What are the functions of riparian buffers?

  • To slow flood waters and reduce the volume of water through root absorption.
  • To improve water quality by filtering runoff and promoting sediment deposition.
  • To allow water storage in plant roots and to provide pathways to groundwater layers.
  • To provide canopy cover which shades and cools the stream, improving habitat conditions for instream organisms (fish, salamanders, frogs, etc.). This shade also provides relief from extreme heat for terrestrial animals.
  • To provide habitat for a variety of birds and small mammals.
  • These buffers also act as corridors to similar habitat, providing food, shelter and nesting sites.

Riparian areas also provide great opportunities for recreational activities such as fishing, hiking, bird watching, picnicking, and camping.

What is a riparian buffer?

The immediate area adjacent to the stream.

What is a riparian management zone?

Land and vegetation areas next to lakes and streams where management practices are modified to protect water quality, fish, and other aquatic resources. These areas are complex ecosystems that provide food, habitat, and movement corridor for both aquatic and terrestrial communities.

What is a riparian zone?

The zones of direct interaction between terrestrial and stream systems. Areas which directly influence stream channels and lakes and the ecosystem within them.



Department of Planning and Community Development

P. 412-831-9000
(Ext. 5010)
F. 412-854-0773

1820 McLaughlin Run Road  Upper St. Clair, PA 15241

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