Riparian Buffer

A riparian buffer is a narrow strip of land filled with vegetation located along the borders of water networks. It protects the water from impact of adjacent land through filtering the pollutions. It also provide a habitat and wildlife corridor, as well as reducing erosion through stabilizing the river bank. For the city, it could increase the land value as it will provide a recreational area for the citizens. Profitable plants can be incorporated along the riparian zone to give economical benefit.

Riparian buffer zoning. Source: NSCU

The strip usually divided into three zones which each has its own specific function to filter the water runoff. Buffer design is the key of the strip effectiveness. It is generally recommended that the general width should be around 15 m on each side, with incorporation of native plants 1.

Zone 1: This area located around 5 – 10 m along the waterways. It has the fewest pollutants as they already absorbed by zone 2 and zone 3. Fast growing tree species that do not require any tending is highly recommended to provide shade to the water, improving bank stability and offering insect habitat.

Zone 2: This area located around 10 – 15 m next to zone 1. This zone acts as the transitional space between the grassland and forest. Native slow growing trees and shrubs are planted to absorb the pollutants from zone 3 and has to be periodically maintained. Productive tree plants is permitted as long as the purpose is not being compromised. This zone can provide space for wildlife, such as nesting area for bird.

Zone 3: This area generally around 10 m in width and covered in native grass. This is the first line of defense against contaminants and pollutants. It also slow down the surface runoff before reaching the other zone.


Riparian buffer in Story County, Iowa. Source: USDA



1. Dosskey, M., Schultz, D., & Isenhart, T. (1997). “Riparian Buffers for Agricultural Land.” Agroforestry Notes, No. 3, January 1997. National Agroforestry Center, USDA Forest Service, Lincoln, NE.

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