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Water: Polluted Runoff

Aquatic Buffers

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Aquatic Buffers serve as natural boundaries between local waterways and existing development. They help protect water quality by filtering pollutants, sediment, and nutrients from runoff. Other benefits of buffers include flood control, stream bank stabilization, stream temperature control, and room for lateral movement of the stream channel. Good aquatic buffer ordinances specify the size and management of the stream buffer and are a specific planning tool to protect stream quality and aquatic habitat.

Effective buffer ordinances provide guidelines for buffer creation and maintenance and should require:

  • buffer boundaries to be clearly marked on local planning maps
  • maintenance language that restricts vegetation and soil disturbance
  • tables that illustrate buffer width adjustment by percent slope and type of stream
  • direction on allowable uses and public education

Each of the 10 sections of the model ordinance provides suggested language or technical guidance designed to create the most effective stream buffer zones possible. Much of the model is based on Baltimore County, Maryland's (PDF) (12 pp, 84K) regulations for the protection of water quality, streams, wetlands, and floodplains. In certain sections, additional features and language judged to enhance the protective measures and functions of the proposed stream buffer have been added.


When you see this symbol, it is time to make a decision or get more information.

Included on this site are sample stream buffer ordinances from various parts of the country:

A strong buffer ordinance is only a first step to preserving stream buffers. In addition, communities will need an effective buffer program to manage buffers and enforce buffer regulations. During the construction phase, communities need to ensure that the clearing and grading permit is well integrated with the forest buffer application. After construction, programs that educate citizens about the importance of the buffer and how to manage the buffer can help preserve its integrity.

Local Government Environmental
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