By Chaneen Haler, Community Relations Coordinator with Greenville County Soil and Water Conservation District
Most of my favorite hikes in the Upstate include a stream or river. I love the feeling of walking alongside the sound of running water – there’s something about the gentle sound of tiny waterfalls that helps remind me that everything around me is in motion, lively and ever-changing. I usually find a sunny space among the trees to read and refuel, and am almost always distracted by the water. Some days it’s the way it glimmers with the sunlight or flows gracefully around boulders. Almost without fail, I’ll then find myself fascinated by the life that surrounds me. There are always insects to admire and brush away; birds’ songs complement the water’s flow, and the occasional toad bounces nearby. Flowers and bushes line the banks; moss and lichen cover rocks and stones, adding color to the whole experience. By now I have abandoned my book — there are too many beautiful things happening around me.
Have you ever considered why the rivers and streams on a hike seem to be more enchanting than the ones that run through some of our backyards? I think much of it has to do with what surrounds the water. This area is called a buffer, and it’s crucial to the health of our water, our soils and, I believe, us.
Buffers are, very simply, strips of vegetation in place to help manage runoff, mitigate erosion and keep pollutants out of our water. Buffers come in all shapes and sizes, but are most successful when they are allowed to naturally develop. It’s really not the vegetation that creates a good buffer, but the roots of those plants. They’ll naturally intertwine and grow to form a sort of sponge in the soil. This collection of roots will hold soil in place, absorb and filter water, and capture potentially harmful sediment before it reaches the water.
The benefits of buffers extend above ground as well. They provide essential habitat for many creatures. Well-established buffers, especially those that include large trees, help regenerate the soil when their leaves fall. Healthy soil means even better water filtration. The trees and bushes in a healthy buffer help shade and cool the nearby surfaces, including water and many aquatic animals thrive in cooler water temperatures.
It can be difficult to find a good buffer in urban areas, but there are ways to increase the quantity and quality of our buffers. If you live near a stream, allow whatever naturally grows to grow at least 30 feet on either side of the bank – 100 feet or more would be even better. You can report stream bank erosion to Friends of the Reedy River here: https://www.friendsofthereedyriver.org/river-resources. FORR is tracking where erosion is causing severe damage with the goal of correcting some of the issues in the future. Of course, the Greenville Soil and Water Conservation District has resources on buffers and all things stormwater related.