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wildflowers at concrete ditchRoadside Stream Buffers and State Waters

A lot of times, streams run near the road. Also, drainage ditches run parallel to the road pavement. Anytime there is a base flow or containment of storm water on the rights of way, it is considered a protected state water. That flow can be only intermittent, and sometimes the only way of telling if base flow exists is by the presence of indicator plant material. Nevertheless, these areas and the wide buffers just beyond the water line need to be protected. That means, for most warm-water streams, you cannot remove or disturb any existing vegetation for a minimum of 25 above the water line on either side of a stream without a special variance from the Environmental Protection Agency. In cool water trout streams the buffer extends to 50 feet on either side of the water line. Wetlands, marshes, and sediment basins have buffers, too. When water is involved, regulations are involved. Along with EPA protection requirements, metropolitan areas also have compliance regulations for MS4 permitting, the Municipal Separate Strom Sewer Systems. It provides for methods to prevent discharge of pollutants into waters of the United States. All of this falls under the NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permitting program.

You can find more information about trees in The Advanced Guide to Environmental Mitigation Planting: Healing Disturbed SItespart of The Advanced Guide series.

It’s a lot to take in. You can get caught up in the regulations and details for this in the same way some people get caught up in the world of herbicides. Just try to stay away from negligent and reckless activities around water. The main goal is to do the right thing and be respectful of the importance of clean water, understanding that activity near water needs to be responsible. Check to see if special permitting is required for your project. Usually, any project less than an acre has minimal requirements. Provide protection for and work with existing buffers when designing your landscape plans. They can provide valuable mature tree canopy. Avoid any activities that disturb the soil unless sediment is contained on site and the ground is stabilized as quickly as possible with vegetation. Stay out of stream buffers with any herbicide or fertilizer use. Water that flows into your site should leave it clean and reasonably free of pollutants, NPU’s (nephelometric turbidity units—a measurement of how cloudy water is) and TSS’s (total suspended solids—a measurement of how gunky water is).

Beautification and mitigation projects, as long as they don’t include removal of existing trees and native shrubs, will actually improve water quality for a site.

Roadside Stream Buffers and State Waters