Approximately 6% of South Carolina is covered by water, with 30,000 miles of rivers and streams carving through the state’s rolling hillside, pastoral farmland, historic cities, and saltmarsh-laced coastline. Maybe you are one of the lucky ones to have a view of one of South Carolina’s picturesque waterways from your porch or window. Whether you are a neighbor to a river, creek, stream, lake, or pond, there is one common practice that helps protect these valuable resources – riparian buffers.
Riparian buffers are swaths of vegetated land, combining a mix of native trees, shrubs, and other perennial plants, that border a waterway. The benefits of riparian buffers are many. Riparian buffers help provide flood protection to adjacent properties as they slow down the movement of floodwater. Riparian buffers help filter and remove pollution from runoff after rain events, helping maintain healthy waterways. Riparian buffers help manage erosion along shorelines with the reinforcement of dense root systems of trees and plants. Riparian buffers help provide habitat to South Carolina’s diverse and unique wildlife. And, I would be neglectful if I didn’t mention that riparian buffers can be beautiful, too! Riparian buffers can enhance the natural beauty of our mountain streams, tidal creeks, and wetlands and provide us recreational opportunities for wildlife viewing, hiking, boating, and fishing, too.
Riparian buffers can be established by protecting pre-existing plant communities around a waterway or can be encouraged through a reduced mowing or planting plan.
- To find out how to establish a buffer around your freshwater shoreline, see HGIC 1855, Shorescaping Freshwater Shorelines.
- If you are one of our Lowcountry or Grand Strand locals and looking to support a riparian buffer around your tidal creek, look no further than HGIC 1856, Life Along the Salt Marsh: Protecting Tidal Creeks with Vegetative Buffers.
- Further reading can be found in the Clemson Extension’s new Stream Bank Repair Manual, a free download that helps homeowners learn how to address stream bank erosion through bank repair and riparian buffer establishment.
- And, for the definitive guide to buffers, you can order Clemson University’s Life at the Water’s Edge.
How wide of a buffer is best? The wider, the better, where possible, but be buffer-proud of what area you can establish, even if only a few feet.
What type of plants should be considered? A variety of native plants and trees that are well-adapted to soil and climate conditions are ideal. Avoid invasive plants that can quickly overtake a buffer habitat and don’t provide the wildlife benefits of their native counterparts.
Are there any protections or regulations on buffers in my area? Your local community government is a good first call to find out if guidance or regulation for buffer establishment and maintenance exists in your area. They may also refer you to state or federal resources.
- U.S. Census Bureau and SC Department of Natural Resources.