Riparian Buffers

Background

Riparian buffers provide a wide variety of environmental “services” like pollution and flood prevention and erosion control. Just as importantly, they offer recreational opportunities, aesthetic appeal, and wildlife habitat–not to mention carbon sequestration, air quality improvement, and more… The most effective buffers consist of high species density, diversity, and bio-productivity.

A riparian forest buffer is a specialized type of riparian buffer consisting of permanent vegetation that is predominantly native trees and shrubs that provide at least 60% uniform canopy cover. It is located along perennial or intermittent streams, rivers, lakes, ponds and reservoirs and is maintained in a natural state or sustainably managed to protect and enhance water quality, stabilize stream channels and banks, and separate land use activities from surface waters. Riparian forest buffers can be in place as newly established or existing, where protection is critical.

Pennsylvania municipalities have been both empowered and mandated by state law (Clean Streams Law, Dam Safety and Encroachments Act, Flood Plain Management Act, Storm Water Management Act and Municipalities Planning Code) as well as federal law (Coastal Zone Management Act and Clean Water Act) to keep our water resources safe from degradation.

The Clean Streams Law was amended in 2010, strengthening riparian buffer requirements for exceptional value and high quality watersheds and requiring 150 buffers when construction or earth disturbance activity requires a non-pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES) permit.

Past Legislation Impacting Riparian Buffers

H.B. 1565 eliminates the existing requirement of a riparian buffer or forested riparian buffer for new developments requiring a non pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES) permit in a high quality and/or exceptional value watershed. The bill instead provides that buffers “may be used as a choice” among other alternatives.

The legislation is silent regarding the process for evaluating the suitability and/or effectiveness of the option selected. If DEP no longer has the authority to require buffers, even where doing so is necessary to protect water quality, the Commonwealth will lose an essential tool in its ongoing efforts to keep our streams clean.

HB1565

Comments Regarding HB1565