Riparian buffers essential to water quality

Constructed riparian wetland in urban environment.  Clark County Wetlands Park

Constructed riparian wetland in urban environment. Clark County Wetlands Park

While researching for my Wetlands course, I came across some published scientific literature on the topic of the management of riparian buffers.  Initially I was looking for information on the process of improving water quality via filtration by aquatic plants within the riparian ecosystem.   Upon finding this particular paper, I was struck with some fascination about what we humans have done to the existing riparian buffers in the United States until recently.

In short, the paper discusses the practice of reconstructing these riparian wetlands from meandering streams to straightened canals.  Vegetation is removed along the banks and replaced with stone or concrete.  The goal of this process was to aid in preventing erosion and to make these systems appear more aesthetically appealing to residents and businesses in the region.  According to research, however, some scholars have determined that these practices are harmful to the ecology of these wetland systems, which, in turn, affects water quality.  It is important to realize that humans do not always know what is best for our environment.  The data are showing us that we might want to consider keeping these naturally occurring riparian systems intact as nature intended, and perhaps stop trying to “beautify” what is already naturally beautiful.

The paper to which I referred earlier is available through scholarly database searches.  I will include its citation below.  If you have opportunity to read it, I would suggest it.

From the study, it has been determined that the reconstructing of natural riparian buffers has a negative effect on the ecology of the system.  It was found that trees and other vegetation are significantly important to nitrogen pollution removal, among other contaminants found in runoff water.  For reconstruction projects, it is important to replant native species in order to effect the best possible outcome in water quality.  Here is a link to one particular reconstruction project, Comprehensive Riparian Restoration Along Burd Run.  The North Carolina project offered some valuable lessons in riparian buffer construction.

Kenwick, R. A., Shammin, M., & Sullivan, W. C. (2009). Preferences for riparian buffers. Landscape and Urban Planning, 88-96.

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