Stormwater—rain and snow melt that runs over the ground, picking up sediments and other pollutants along the way—can significantly impact coastal waters. In forests, fields, and other undeveloped areas, vegetation and natural contours slow stormwater and allow it to infiltrate into the ground. The vegetation also filters sediments and other pollutants before surface runoff reaches the nearest wetland or water body. Development disrupts this natural stormwater control when forest and field are replaced by rooftops, roads, and other impervious surfaces that prevent infiltration. Lawns also contribute to stormwater pollution. These graded and mowed surfaces increase surface runoff, particularly when the soil beneath them becomes compacted—and this runoff is typically contaminated with fertilizers and pesticides used to keep the lawn green.
Maintaining strips of natural vegetation along wetlands and waterways is one of the best ways to reduce stormwater impacts. In areas where the natural vegetation has already been replaced by lawn, growing strips of trees, shrubs, and/or tall grasses (particularly native species) can generate significant environmental benefits. These vegetated buffers effectively mimic natural systems, slowing down surface runoff, capturing stormwater to improve infiltration, and filtering contaminants. In addition to protecting surface waters, vegetated buffers improve groundwater supplies by promoting recharge and filtering contaminants. Native plants also benefit wildlife by providing food and habitat and shading rivers and streams, which helps to maintain water temperatures at appropriate levels. Because land use throughout the entire watershed affects water quality, the benefits of planting native vegetation extend beyond the wetland border. Consequently, transforming lawn to native vegetation anywhere on your property is a great way to help the environment.
The following links include excellent information on vegetated buffers.
More on Stormwater
- Information on stormwater regulations, permits, and management is available on the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) website.
- The University of Connecticut’s Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials web page has a variety of publications on stormwater. Also, see their factsheet on stormwater impacts.
- See the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fact sheet on urban runoff.
Benefits of Vegetated Buffers
- The Connecticut River Joint Commissions has a series of fact sheets on riparian (i.e., riverfront) buffers.
- As part of its Green Landscaping initiative, EPA has a web page on the benefits of green landscaping.
How to Plant Vegetated Buffers
- The Parker River Clean Water Association has the excellent guide Waterfront Gardens: A guide to planting a landscaped buffer to protect your river, stream, wetland, or pond.
- See the Connecticut River Joint Commissions fact sheet on planting riparian buffers.
- See The Massachusetts Buffer Manual: Using Vegetated Buffers to Protect Our Lakes and Rivers file size 2MB for information on the benefits of vegetated buffers and details on how to design them.
More on Native Species
- The Riverways Program has a list of Massachusetts' native plants appropriate for planting in riparian areas .
- The Natural Resources and Conservation Service has fact sheets on Massachusetts Native Trees and Wildflowers and Massachusetts Native Shrubs and Grasses.
Regulations that May Apply
- In Massachusetts, work within 100 feet of wetland resources is subject to the Wetlands Protection Act, and working within 200 feet of rivers is subject to the Rivers Protection Act. For copies of the regulations, see the MassDEP website.
- For more on the implementation of wetlands regulations at the local level, see the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions’ link to local Conservation Commissions.
Technical Resources for Local Officials
- The University of Connecticut’s Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials program provides information on the relationship between land use and natural resource protection.
- EPA has A Source Book on Natural Landscaping for Public Officials.
Other Sources of Information
- Check out EPA’s Polluted Runoff (Nonpoint Source Pollution) website.
- EPA has information on lawn reduction and environmentally friendly maintenance practices.