Don’t Mow, Let it Grow!

Written by Chelsea Blount

It’s finally spring and that means the grass is growing! For many, the sight of tall grasses and shrubs is regarded as untidy, but for our natural waterways, those grasses and shrubs mean the difference between healthy and impaired.

We forget that straight lines and orderly rows are not how the natural world operates. The natural environment is full of messy, complicated ecosystems thriving with diversity and disorder. Streams and rivers move almost snake-like along valley floors, forests become increasingly complex as trees become intertwined as they grow, and grasses and shrubs get taller.

“Father of the National Parks” and naturalist, John Muir, once said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” The same thing can be said for the vegetation that grows along our waterways. The strip of grasses, shrubs, and trees that grows along streams and rivers is called a riparian buffer, or stream buffer. Riparian buffers separate bodies of water from surrounding land use and protect our water from land-based pollution including fertilizers, sediment, and anything else that could be carried by polluted surface runoff. The removal of a riparian buffer on one property can cause a ripple effect throughout the larger river ecosystem.

In their natural state, riparian buffers provide environmental, public health, and safety benefits for our community. Consider the following benefits of riparian buffers (originally provided by Bushkill Stream Conservancy):


Eason Creek Before Riparian Buffer

Eason Creek Before Riparian Buffer

Eason Creek After Riparian Buffer Installed

Eason Creek After Riparian Buffer Installed

Buffers reduce flood damage. The vegetation and soils in stream buffers reduce flooding impacts by increasing storage and infiltration of floodwaters and slowing floodwater velocities, protecting riverfront and streamside properties from maximum flood damage.

Buffers decrease cost of stormwater management. The use of stream buffers, especially in new land development designs, can reduce or eliminate the need for large and expensive stormwater infrastructure, such as storm sewers and detention basins.

Buffers filter pollutants. The vegetation and soils in stream buffers filter incredible amounts of pollutants, including sediment (the #1 pollutant in all watersheds according to the EPA), nutrients from agricultural and lawn practices, and toxins and other contaminants from stormwater runoff from roadways, sidewalks and parking lots.

Buffers protect drinking water. The vegetation and soils in stream buffers filter out pollution, as mentioned above, and battle drought by retaining vast amounts of water, protecting both water quality and quantity, – a fact that should prove crucial in water management planning.

Buffers increase in-stream pollution removal. Streams protected by forested stream buffers break down and remove an astounding 200-800% more nitrogen pollution than streams without buffer protection – a finding that should prove vital to regional water quality improvement programs.

Buffers reduce streambank erosion. The root systems of trees, shrubs, and other vegetation in stream buffers stabilize stream bank soils and slow down stormwater runoff to prevent erosion, reducing sediment pollution.

Buffers cool water. The shade of forested buffers can cool streams by 4-9℉. Shaded and cooler water means healthier streams, particularly for temperature-sensitive fish like trout.

Buffers enhance stream habitat for fish and other aquatic, terrestrial, and aerial life. Leaves, sticks, and other natural debris that end up in streams from stream buffers provide food, shelter, and habitat, increasing biological productivity from the bottom of the food chain on up.

The moral of this story is, even if you don’t live on the New River, you live in its Watershed! Because all water flows downhill and eventually into our waterways, all activities on your land will have an effect on the New River. Water flowing from your yards, neighborhoods, parking lots, construction sites, and farms will end up in the nearest waterbody without vegetated stream buffers to intercept that runoff.

If you would like to make a difference in the New River Watershed, plant some native shrubs and trees on your property, because remember – our New River is only as healthy as the land through which it flows. This spring and summer, consider giving your living riparian buffer a chance to do its job! Don’t mow, let it grow!

For more information on what you can do to protect the New River, please visit You can also support our efforts by becoming a member of New River Conservancy.

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