Water quality functions of a 15-year-old riparian forest buffer system

350 210 Stroud Water Research Center

Newbold, J.D., S. Herbert, B.W. Sweeney, P. Kiry, and S.J. Alberts. 2010. Journal of the American Water Resources Association, 46(2):299–310.

doi: 10.1111 ⁄ j.1752-1688.2010.00421.x


We monitored long-term water quality responses to the implementation of a three-zone Riparian Forest Buffer System (RFBS) in southeastern Pennsylvania. The RFBS, established in 1992 in a 15-ha agricultural (row crop) watershed, consists of: Zone 1, a streamside strip (∼10 m wide) of permanent woody vegetation for stream habitat protection; Zone 2, an 18- to 20-m-wide strip reforested in hardwoods upslope from Zone 2; and Zone 3, a 6- to 10-m-wide grass filter strip in which a level lip spreader was constructed. The monitoring design used paired watersheds supplemented by mass balance estimates of nutrient and sediment removal within the treated watershed. Tree growth was initially delayed by drought and deer damage, but increased after more aggressive deer protection (1.5 m polypropylene shelters or wire mesh protectors) was instituted. Basal tree area increased ∼20-fold between 1998 and 2006, and canopy cover reached 59% in 2006. For streamwater nitrate, the paired watershed comparison was complicated by variations in both the reference stream concentrations and in upslope groundwater nitrate concentrations, but did show that streamwater nitrate concentrations in the RFBS watershed declined relative to the reference stream from 2002 through the end of the study in early 2007. A subsurface nitrate budget yielded an average nitrate removal by the RFBS of 90 kg/ha/year, or 26% of upslope subsurface inputs, for the years 1997 through 2006. There was no evidence from the paired watershed comparison that the RFBS affected streamwater phosphorus concentration. However, groundwater phosphorus did decline within the buffer. Overland flow sampling of 23 storms between 1997 and 2006 showed that total suspended solids concentration in water exiting the RFBS to the stream was on average 43% lower than in water entering the RFBS from the tilled field. Particulate phosphorus concentration was lower by 22%, but this removal was balanced by a 26% increase in soluble reactive phosphorus so that there was no net effect on total phosphorus.