Shoring up living waters

Posted 5/12/21

NARROWSBURG, NY — Most people probably don’t even know what a riparian buffer is, let alone how to design, create and maintain one. But after Haley Springston’s “Best …

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Shoring up living waters


NARROWSBURG, NY — Most people probably don’t even know what a riparian buffer is, let alone how to design, create and maintain one. But after Haley Springston’s “Best Management Practices for Riparian Buffers” presentation to the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) on May 6, the UDC not only knows what a riparian buffer is but also what it can do for rivers and streams, the shores lining them and the ecosystems they support.

Riparian means “riverside” and buffer, in this case, means vegetation or plants. Springston, watershed planning coordinator for the Rondout Neversink Stream Program, explained how the plants lining streams and tributaries stabilize and sustain ecosystems by minimizing soil erosion, fertilizing soil and feeding insect, bird, animal and fish populations within a living (running) water ecosystem.

Although the complexity of developing a riparian buffer may seem daunting to living water property owners, they, too, will reap rewards from a well-designed, installed and maintained buffer. And it was primarily to them that Springston was speaking. So, it was not surprising when riverfront property owner Fred Peckham, UDC representative from Hancock, was first to ask a question: When shown a slide of a riverbank lined with boulders, he said, “I thought rip-rap wasn’t done anymore.”

“It’s true that rip-rap, the practice of lining the banks of stream beds with stone, is no longer recommended,” said Springston. “But we’ve found ways of incorporating buffers into rip-rap.” The next slide showed a buffer of wildflowers, oats and rye seeded between the rip-rap boulders. The mature plants taking up residence there had dwarfed and almost completely camouflaged the stones, transforming the barren rip-rap into a lush meadow full of wildlife that included pollinators and beneficial insects.

However, it’s not just a simple matter of throwing some seeds into soil. “A good buffer takes planning,” says Springston. That planning relies on knowledge paired with accurate information about native plants, invasive plants, soil conditions and climate, as well as other site conditions.

“I start with a botanical survey and soil testing,” says Springston. “The botanical survey should catalog the plants already in the area, taking note of invasives and site-suitable plants.”

“What about Japanese knotweed?” asked Peckham, speaking of the invasive plant species most prevalent in the Upper Delaware. “Are there native plants that can discourage or overpower it?”

“To my knowledge, no native plant has been shown to be an effective biological agent against Japanese knotweed,” said Springston, who went on to say that knotweed’s method of propagation by rhizomes (roots that spread underground) makes it tough to eradicate. Those unseen roots can spread considerable distances before sending a stalk up to the sunlight. In that way, it can successfully bypass competitors and poor soil.

“You have to root it out, literally,” said Springston, noting that once a knotweed patch is well established, it is exponentially more difficult to eliminate. “You’ve got to get it while it’s small, before its root system has become entrenched and elaborate.”

According to Springston, there is good news: Invasive species can be minimized by planting native species, reducing mowed areas, using more compost and fewer chemical fertilizers, and being more soil conscious. Soil samples can be sent to Harrington Soil Labs ( for analysis and planting recommendations.

Is there a plant that is suitable for rocky, sandy, or barren soil? “Willow,” says Springston, “will root and grow quickly in almost any soil type with little to no maintenance.”

How wide should a buffer be? “The wider, the better,” says Springston.

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