Next stop: The buffer zone

When it comes to protecting our rivers and streams, there’s one option that’s easy to accomplish yet can work wonders: a buffer zone.

What’s a buffer zone? It’s an area that catches, slows and filters water runoff before it enters a stream or river. It can remove chemicals, excess nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen (which come from lawn and crop fertilization), and sediment that’s been washed away in a heavy rain.

A buffer zone (or riparian buffer) is an important part of keeping our waterways clean. When excess nutrients enter a body of water, they cause algal blooms that use up oxygen that fish and other aquatic organisms need to live. Sediment — such as topsoil, sand or clay — clogs streams, harms aquatic life, and often carries trapped pollutants.

Fortunately, a buffer zone is simple to create and maintain.

For starters, you can reduce or eliminate fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides used on your lawn. Is a lush, emerald green carpet of grass really more important than clean water and a healthy ecosystem? Fertilizer runoff is a primary pollutant found in waterways all over the country, but with just a few small changes to our lifestyle, we can have a big impact on the effect it’s having on our sources of drinking water.

Capturing or diverting rooftop storm water runoff is another easy step. A rain barrel – available free from the Authority – can be used to capture storm water for reuse later when your garden or flowers need a drink. Or you can direct rainwater into a rain garden, which will capture and filter the runoff (for a rain garden fact sheet, click here) by utilizing rocks, blended soils and water-loving native plants. Either solution keeps runoff from eroding your yard and washing dirt and debris straight into a stream.

If a stream or river runs along your property, create a no-mow zone of 5 feet or more (the wider the better). This allows better filtration of runoff before it reaches the stream, while also maintaining an area for wildlife. It also saves you money on gas and stabilizes the stream bank by reducing erosion. You can even go a step further by planting native wildflowers and grasses to improve the process. And remember: Never, ever dump leaves, grass clippings or any other debris into a stream.

Porous paving stones and driveway materials are also an integral part of a buffer zone. Instead of traditional macadam or cement  — materials that deflect water — porous materials allow runoff to soak into the ground, which aids in filtration and helps prevent runoff. To learn more, take a look at this page.

Keeping our waterways clean helps everyone. Do your part, and establish a buffer zone where you live. Mother nature will thank you.

For additional information about buffer zones and eliminating stream pollution, visit these Web pages from the DEP and EPA.