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What is a Riparian Buffer?Buffers

A riparian or forested buffer is an area along a shoreline, wetland, or stream where plants are allowed to grow and development may be restricted or prohibited. The primary function of riparian buffers is to physically protect a stream, lake, or wetland by allowing plants to absorb and stop pollution from entering the water. Maintaining a riparian zone is one of the most effective ways of protecting water quality. Buffers filter out pollutants like fertilizer, dog waste, and oil.  Buffers also stabilize stream banks, preventing sediment from entering our waterways. 

A well designed buffer can. . .

  • remove up to 50% or more of nutrients and pesticides.
  • remove up to 60% or more of certain pathogens.
  • remove up to 75% or more of sediment.

Tips for Getting Started

Establish a "no mow" area along your stream bank
Plant trees, shrubs and long stem grasses in your buffer zone. Shrubs grow fast and can help create the buffer zone more quickly
Native grasses, such as Tufted Hairgrass or Switchgrass, help maintain views
Periodically pick up litter and eliminate the use of insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers
Combine a buffer with rain gardens, rain barrels and other practices to reduce stormwater runoff!





Buffer DiagramJordan Lake Rules

High levels of nitrogen and phosphorous are picked up by stormwater and carried down the Haw River into Jordan Lake. High levels of these nutrients resulted in the Jordan Lake Rules in 2009. Because riparian buffers are very efficient at reducing nutrient levels, the rules mandate 50 foot buffers in most Jordan Lake communities. Existing development is exempt from these rules.

Buffers are split into two zones:

Zone One is 30 feet from the top of the stream bank. Within this zone, vegetation must not be disturbed.
Zone Two is an additional 20 feet outside the undisturbed zone. Limited disturbance (i.e. pruning) is allowed.





Links and Resources

Download the Stormwater SMART general Buffer Brochure or the Buffer Brochure for Jordan Lake communities.


For a full description of activities that are exempt or are allowable under the Jordan Lake Rules, please visit: www.jordanlake.org


For more information on using native plants when establishing your buffer, check out this website from the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension.


For more information and additional resources, check out the United States Department of Agriculture website.

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