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.

Before disturbing a stream buffer in any way, be sure to check the Fairfax County website to learn what's allowed, and what activities may require a permit. Stream buffers are designated as Resource Protection Areas, and are protected by the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance.

Steps to Restore the Buffer