Why are stream buffers important?
If the Huron River and its tributaries could talk, one of the first things they might say to us is “Hey, can we get a little privacy here, please?” One of life’s bare necessities is clothing and shelter to keep us safe, healthy, and protected from the elements. For a stream or river, the vegetated zones along its banks, known as buffers, are the equivalent of the walls of our houses or the clothes on our backs.
Establishing buffers that protect the river, its streams, floodplains, wetlands, and steep slopes, is critical to protecting the aquatic system against increasing development pressures throughout the watershed and maintaining the Huron River’s physical, biological, and chemical integrity.
A buffer is a strip of undisturbed native vegetation bordering a stream or river, or wetland. The trees, shrubs and plants, and grasses in the buffer provide a natural and gradual transition from terrestrial to aquatic environments. These areas are critical for wildlife habitat, storing water during periods of high water flow, and protecting lakes and rivers from physical and chemical pollutants.
Yet, much of the Huron’s stream and river corridors have been stripped of natural vegetation, and natural shorelines and stream banks have been replaced with turfgrass, seawalls, concrete rubble, boulders, or other artificial barriers that sever the critical connection between land and water. The eventual result is bank erosion and a straight path for pollutants to flow directly into our waterways.
In fact, removing buffer vegetation fundamentally changes the way a stream flows. A buffer acts as a sponge, soaking up runoff from rainstorms and slowly releasing it to the stream. Removing or altering buffers allows runoff to rush quickly and directly into streams during rainstorms, which can dramatically harm a stream’s ecological and physical health.
HRWC studied buffers in the watershed for two years and prepared a summary and recommendations: Report on Stream Buffers in the Huron River Watershed.
What can you do to give back to the river?
Buffer Brochure for Residents Learn how plant buffers protect the water and what you can do on your property to help improve streamside/lakeside buffers.
Enact an ordinance to protect and restore buffers in your own community: Model Ordinance for Stream Buffers + USDA NRCS (MI) Technical Guide for Forested Buffers.
Watershed communities such as Green Oak Charter Township and Scio Township have adapted the HRWC Model Ordinance and enacted their own protective ordinances.
See local examples of working stream buffers in three watershed communities: