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Buffers

A stream is not just the water that flows through a channel.  A stream includes its bed, its banks, and the lands that run along its length.  The land along our streams and rivers is an essential and living part of the stream ecosystem.  To be healthy, a stream needs its adjacent lands to be covered with healthy, varied and native vegetation.  
  
Vegetated buffers provide a living cushion between our upland land uses and our living streams providing important protections to both the stream and our human communities.  Vegetated buffers help protect our communities from non-natural flooding – the soils and vegetation soak up and hold floodwaters, gently releasing them after the storm has passed. This flood protection reduces flood damages in our communities as well as minimizing the need for costly emergency response.   Vegetated buffers filter out pollution, that washed from the land as well as that already in the water thereby protecting our drinking water as well as our special places for  boating, swimming, fishing and birding.  Vegetated buffers  protect and improve our local economies – they increase the market value and marketability of nearby homes; they support the qualities needed to sustain a healthy ecotourism industry, and they provide the clean and fresh water needed to support a variety of industry and waterside needs.  Vegetated buffers help encourage infiltration of rainfall and runoff helping to keep our underground aquifers flowing and available during times of drought.  Vegetated buffers protect public and private lands from erosion.  And, vegetated buffers provide essential habitat, in stream and on the land, for aquatic life, birds, wildlife, amphibians and reptiles.  
  
When we devegetate and fill our riparian buffer areas we not only destroy their ability to provide these community benefits, but the opposite harmful reaction results --- rather than flood storage we have increased flooding; rather than aquifer recharge we have increased drought; rather than healthy streamside lands and habitats we have erosion and degraded ecosystems; and so on. 
 
It is essential we protect our vegetated buffers for the health of our streams and our communities. 

How Much of a Buffer Should Be Protected? 
In general, riparian buffers should be as wide as possible.  The bigger the buffer the more pollution it can filter, the better habitat it can provide, the more water it can absorb, hold and infiltrate.  
  
A wealth of new science focused on buffers is taking place.  These studies are telling us that a minimum 100 foot buffer is best for protecting water quality, for preventing and removing pollution, and for protecting habitats in the stream and on the land.  In a number of instances buffers ranging from 300 to 1000 feet are being recommended, or even required, in order to provide the greatest level of protection our natural waterways and habitats need.  When focused on bird life and wildlife the buffer minimum  is tending towards 300 feet or greater.  In this case too, bigger is definitely better – providing better quality habitat and needed migration paths for a variety of wildlife.  
  
Also very important to the effective functioning of a riparian buffer is the quality and mix of vegetation. Characteristics such as species diversity, vegetation type, physical condition and maturity all affect the ability of the buffer to do its job. The forested buffer which includes a mix of plants, shrubs, and trees can work on steep slopes, where other vegetation, especially grass, and other BMPs may be difficult to install and maintain. 

Delaware Riverkeeper Network is working to get requirements at the state and regional level that ensure protective buffers for all streams in the watershed. We were leaders on the successful effort to get 300 foot buffer requirements for C-1 streams in NJ and 150 foot buffers on exceptional value and high quality streams in Pennsylvania. 

Pennsylvania State Senator John Rafferty reintroduced the Riparian Buffer Protection Act, SB560, a bill to support protection of forest buffers along streams, creeks and rivers in the state. However the bill is currently stuck in committee and has not made it to the floor for a vote. 

 Please use the letter below to craft a letter to the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee asking them to schedule a vote on this important piece of legislation, a key hurdle this bill must pass in order to make it to the Senate floor. Also, if your Senator has not yet become a cosponsor, please urge them to add their name and vote for this important piece of legislation when it comes to the Senate floor. 

Based on the most current science, this bill establishes riparian buffer regulations for new development projects, encourages local governments to enforce buffer ordinances, and supports statewide action in the absence of municipal ordinances. This proposed legislation, which will only impact future development, would encourage a minimum 100 foot buffer for all streams and a minimum 300 foot buffer around Pennsylvania’s cleanest steams (those designated High Quality or Exceptional Value)as well as streams listed as impaired by the state (streams that are failing for meet their water quality standards). 

Riparian buffers provide an endless number of benefits to our communities and protect streams that our communities rely on for drinking water and recreation. Urge your Senator and the leadership of the Environmental Resources and Energy committee to prioritize the health of Pennsylvania’s waterways and the health of Pennsylvanians by advancing and passing this important legislation. 

Send a letter using the sample letter below or write your own letter to: 

Senator Gene Yaw gyaw@pasen.gov 
Senator John Yudicak jyudichak@pasenate.com 
Senator Camera Bartolotta cbartolotta@pasen.gov 
Senator Joseph Scarnati, III jscarnati@pasen.gov 
Senator Scott Hutchinson shutchinson@pasen.gov 
Senator Elder Vogel evogel@pasen.gov 
Senator Kim Ward kward@pasen.gov 
Senator Donald White dwhite@pasen.gov 
Senator John Blake senatorblake@pasenate.com 
Senator Andrew Dinniman andy@pasenate.com 
Senator Daylin Leach senatorleach@pasenate.com 

Sample Letter: 

As a resident of Pennsylvania, I would like to express how important the proposed Senate Bill 560, the Riparian Buffer Protection Act, is to me. I urge you to support this bill and help advance it through committee so it may move to the Senate floor for a vote. I care about the water quality of our streams and rivers, and the protection of riparian buffers is vital for protecting my community from flooding and for preventing the pollution of my environment. 

Without buffer regulations, I fear that our waterways are exposed to impacts associated with potential deforestation. I have seen the ramifications of development (residential, commercial and agricultural) in my own community. Scientific research has repeatedly shown that no other best management practice works as effectively as forested buffers at protecting our waters. 100 foot forested buffers along streams is not a radical or extreme proposal, but a modest and scientifically regarded minimum for water quality protection, flood protection and community protection that is in existence, and even surpassed, in several other states and Pennsylvania municipalities. 

Please keep the safety of Pennsylvania residents at the forefront of your decision-making and schedule a vote on SB 560 so that it may advance to the Senate floor.

Supporting Documents