Protecting Stream Buffers
The land bordering a stream affects its water quality. A vegetated buffer slows down stormwater runoff, filters pollutants, stabilizes stream banks, removes sediment, and removes nitrogen and phosphorous from surface flows and groundwater. In a forested buffer, tree roots remove nitrogen and the tree canopy moderates water temperature, which is critical to fish.
Because of the importance of stream buffers for the Chesapeake Bay's water quality, Virginia and Fairfax County legally protect the 100 foot-wide buffer for streams.
The 25 feet closest to the stream is especially sensitive to potentially harmful activity such as chemical use or excessive removal of vegetation. Owners should try to leave this area undisturbed.
Steps to Restore the Buffer
Don't mow the buffer, especially the 25 feet closest to the stream.
Don't remove existing native understory vegetation or trees.
Do remove exotic invasive plants, such as English ivy, that overtop, outcompete, and kill native trees and plants.
Don't install structures or paved surfaces without permission from Fairfax County.
If it is not vegetated, plant the buffer area with native plants, including trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and grasses. The wider the area planted, the better it is for wildlife and water quality.
To select plants, consult Native Plants for Conservation, Restoration and Landscaping or Native Plants for Wildlife Habitats and Conservation Landscaping.
To find a nursery that sells them, consult the Virginia Native Plant Society's list of native plant nurseries.
To learn more, read the Virginia Department of Forestry's Forests on the Water's Edge.