Riparian Buffers

This summer I’ll be storm chasing!  That’s because my entire research project depends on rain, and lots of it.  I’m studying riparian buffers, riparian for river, and buffer meaning a wooded area around an agricultural field that filters out sediment and nutrients from getting into the Bay.

In Virginia and many states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed farmers are required to have a 100 ft forested buffer separating agricultural fields from perennial streams.  The buffer is meant to reduce sediment and nutrient input to rivers and, eventually, the Chesapeake Bay itself.  In recent years organizations like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation have noted that models regarding the effectiveness of Riparian Buffers do not agree with declining overall health of the Bay.

One phenomenon in the buffers that I’ll be examining are buffer bypassing channels.  Buffer Bypassing Channels are streams that go through the buffer, but do not flow all the time, just during storm events.  Our site is an agricultural field in Charles City County, VA that rotates between corn, wheat, and soybeans.  We have a gauging station set up there on the bypassing channel to record flow depth and take water samples automatically.  This is where the storm chasing comes in.  It’s good to be out there to reload the sampler and to make sure everything is running well because we want every storm’s data.  Last summer we were only able to get two storms that activated the channel, so we have to be careful to make sure we capture all the possible events.

We actually got our first storm event that caused the channel to flow on April 16th so lab work to analyze those samples is already rolling.

Anywho, thanks for reading and I’ll keep ya updated as the project progresses.



  1. Hi I have a quick question. Is a wetland a riparian zone? How are riparian forests, wetlands, marshes, swamps and bogs classified?

  2. Sarah McKinstry says:

    This looks really interesting! I’d be interested to see how the results compare to a farm with livestock.

  3. I agree that a farm with livestock would be an interesting comparison. If the fertilizer is manure based, the results might not be too different. Then again different types of ground cover may play a role in the nutrient content of runoff.