Beside Every Good Stream is a Good Forest – Buffers 100 Initiative


Courtesy morguefile


Pennsylvania streams and communities need buffers of at least 100 feet on either side of every stream. A buffer is a zone of vegetation (forests are the best) that remains intact when building, farming, and other uses of the land on occur along the sides of the stream.

One of the best ways to prevent flooding and protect our state’s water quality is to preserve the ecosystem surrounding our streams. Given that Pennsylvania is one of the most flood-prone states in the nation, this is a critical issue. In recent years, numerous lives have been lost and many homes have been destroyed. Since 1993, nearly $700 million in federal and state dollars has been spent on flood disasters in our state, but most of that money has been spent on disaster relief rather than prevention. Money spent on prevention would provide a cost-effective, long-term, life-saving solution to predictable natural disasters.

Scientific research shows that wooded property on either side of a stream serves as a buffer that:

  • Prevents flood-related damage by absorbing flood waters.
  • Traps and filters sediment, nutrients, and other pollutants, improves water quality. 
  • Reduces the need for stormwater sewers.
  • Reduces the effects of drought on stream flow.
  • Increases property values by providing privacy and enhancing natural vistas.
  • Contributes to growing ecotourism and healthy economies.
  • Cools water and absorbs greenhouse gases (think climate change).
  • Reduces erosion.
  • Preserves habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms.

In contrast, when we construct buildings and pave over land close to our streams, runoff from development sends pollutants, fertilizers, and precious topsoil into the streams. This runoff also causes flooding downstream, kills fish and other aquatic life, and contaminates our drinking water.

In 2010, a big step forward in requiring stream buffers on all new construction was made when the state’s rules on Stormwater and Erosion & Sediment Control were approved.  As part of that package, the state proposed new rules requiring buffer zones of 150 feet for new development in Exceptional Value and High Quality waters!  While this change in the rules was not as protective as our we proposed in our Buffers 100 initiative, it was a HUGE step forward to protect our best streams, and was  the result of years of work by the PA Campaign for Clean Water (PCCW) and the Sierra Club working with the campaign!

As Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, explained at a press conference, "If we are to protect our communities from flooding, drought, and pollution, if we are to provide our communities with high quality drinking water, recreation, and growing businesses, it is critical we protect our streams and rivers with forested buffers that are a minimum of 100 feet wide, and greater where we have more sensitive streams." 

The following link is to a fact sheet that succinctly summarizes important facts about buffers as the best way to protect our streams and waters:

The Pennsylvania Sierra Club, working with the Pennsylvania Campaign for Clean Water in 2013, is freshening its efforts to promote 100 feet buffers on both sides of every stream when development occurs.  Keep tuned because we will be asking for help executing our plans to work toward requiring the single-most important methods to protect our streams:  100 foot forested buffers on both sides of every stream or river in new development.


Published August 2013