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CZ-Tip - Keep Waterways Clean by Filtering Pollutants with Plants

Find ways to get to, protect, and enjoy the coast with tips from the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM).

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 In areas where the natural vegetation has already been replaced by lawn, growing strips of trees, shrubs, and/or tall grasses (particularly native species) can generate significant environmental benefits.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

Benefits of Vegetated Buffers

How to Plant Vegetated Buffers

More on Native Species

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 Electronic Resource Library.

Other Sources of Information

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