Former state environmental official and current Appalachian Voices advocate Amy Adams (whose coal ash-covered hand graced hundreds of articles in the aftermath of the Dan River disaster last year) has written a highly instructive and disturbing explanation of the proposal in the current “regulatory reform” bill wending its way through the General Assembly to, in effect, eviscerate one of North Carolina’s most important anti-water pollution laws.
Bye, bye buffers
By Amy Adams
Buffers are an important concept in acid-base chemistry. A buffer is an aqueous solution that has a highly stable pH. If you add acid or base to a buffered solution, its pH will not change significantly. Also, adding water to a buffer or allowing water to evaporate will not change the pH of a buffer.
Similarly, in ecosystems, a riparian buffer, (otherwise known as the strip of forest that runs adjacent to our streams and rivers) neutralizes many of the “acids” or “bases” coming of the land into the river. These stream buffers filter stormwater runoff before it enters the stream. The vegetation within the buffer absorbs the excess nutrients that enter our waters and cause algae blooms and fish kills. The outer reaches of the buffer (the most landward sections) slow and spread out the flow of water coming off the land. Slowing down the rainwater runoff traps the sediments and the attached pollutants and helps it infiltrate into the ground rather than flow across it. This infiltration, in turn, allows the vegetation within the inner reaches (closest to the stream) to absorb the nutrients.
It’s free and natural stream protection. It requires no investment, no engineers, no construction, just preservation of a 50 ft strip of land. (Well, really a 30 ft. strip of land, as the outer 20 ft. of the buffer can be maintained as yard and utilized for many uses.)
North Carolina holds stewardship of the second largest estuarine complex in the lower 48 states (the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuary) and buffers are a critical part of maintaining the health and balance of this extremely important resource. The critical importance of sustaining the estuarine system was reflected in its Congressional designation as an “Estuary of National Significance” in 1987.
In addition to their nutrient and sediment removal functions, buffers just so happen to do a lot of other great things–even though these other reasons are not really why they were established in 1997: Read more