UBC Undergraduate Research

A literature review of riparian buffer widths for sediments, nutrients and large woody debris Chow, Leeanne


Riparian buffers play a key role in protecting streams. This essay will look at a number of literature studies on riparian buffer widths concerning sedimentation, nutrients and large woody debris loading and try and identify an optimal range for buffer width design in regards to water quality and aquatic habitat. Sediment is the principal contaminant in most streams. Buffer widths of only 4.6 m have been shown to be successful. Buffer widths of 30 m are sufficient to retain sediments for most circumstances although buffer widths should extend as slope increases. In long-term studies, the recommendation of wider buffers is deemed necessary. Buffers have the ability to be sinks for phosphorous and nitrogen in the short-term. For buffers to be effective in the long-term for nutrients, on-site management will be required. Buffer widths of 30 m will provide sufficient nutrient mitigation and 15 m wide buffers can act as the minimum as it will still provide adequate control under many conditions. Buffers also play a part in maintaining aquatic habitat through large woody debris loading. Buffer widths of 10-30 m with native forest as the vegetation will provide inputs of large woody debris. The extent of buffers should include all perennial and intermittent streams of second order or higher. Vegetation type should consist of native forest and other native vegetation to the riparian area. There are many factors that affect the width of the buffer. These factors include: slope, rainfall pattern and intensity, soil characteristics, floodplains and land use. In general, the greater the width of the riparian buffer is, the greater the security for water quality and aquatic habitats.

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