Riparian buffer effectiveness as a function of buffer design and input loads

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13 Scopus citations


Although many agricultural watersheds rely heavily on riparian buffer adoption to meet water quality goals, design and management constraints in current policies create adoption barriers. Based on focus group feedback, we developed a flexible buffer design paradigm that varies buffer width, vegetation, and harvesting. Sixteen years of daily-scale nutrient and sediment loads simulated with the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) were coupled to the three-zone Riparian Ecosystem Management Model (REMM) to compare the effectiveness of traditional, policy-based buffer designs with designs that are more flexible and integrate features important to local farmers. Buffer designs included (i) 10 m grass, (ii) 15 m grass, (iii) 15 m deciduous trees, (iv) 30 m grass and trees, (v) 30 m grass and trees with trees harvested every 3 yr, and (vi) 30 m grass and trees with grass harvested every year. Allowing harvesting in one zone of the buffer vegetation (either trees or grasses) minimally affected water quality, with annual average percent reductions differing by <5% (p >.05; 76–78% for total nitrogen [TN], 51–55% for total phosphorus [TP], and 68% for sediment). Under the highest input loading conditions, buffers with lower removal efficiencies removed more total mass than did buffers with high removal efficiencies. Thus, by focusing on mass reduction in addition to percent reduction, watershed-wide buffer implementation may be better targeted to TN, TP, and sediment reduced. These findings have important implications for informing flexible buffer design policies and enhanced placement of buffers in watersheds impaired by nutrient and sediment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1599-1611
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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