Thursday, October 06, 2011

Riparian Buffer and Flood Control

(Flood damage from hurricane Irene followed by heavy rain along the Monocacy Creek in Bethlehem’s Colonial Industrial area)
Flooding along the Monocacy Creek made me wonder if a riparian buffer would help abate the effects of heavy rains. The Monacacy Creek runs through the Colonial Industrial Area in downtown Bethlehem. Historic buildings are periodically flooded.

The site was home to Musikfest’s popular Volksplatz stage and food vendors during the August Festival every year. After several years of flooding, I doubt that Volksplatz will be at this site again. The Celtic Classic stopped using the area several years ago.

From what I’ve read about establishing a riparian buffer, it is not as simple as letting the area go wild.

(The 1761 tannery and other historic buildings flood periodically)

The first obstacle in public areas is overcoming the loss of usable lawn. A riparian buffer isn’t the best place to throw a Frisbee or have a game of touch football. There may not be enough acreage on a golf course for a wide expanse of rough. Corporate centers may not like the look of a natural buffer at the edges of their manicured landscape. It may look messy or weedy. Farmers may not want to lose valuable farm acreage.
Runoff upstream affects the entire stream. It may cause flooding downstream when low lying areas go over capacity. Miles of buffer zones may be necessary to have an effect on flooding.

If you find a suitable area and the stakeholders are willing to give up large grassy location in exchange for a more natural and less accessible area, an organized effort can begin.

A municipal or ecological group would have to do the research and organize public discussion, wade through environmental and zoning red tape, develop a plan and find funding.

Then it is time to prepare the area, select plants and gather a crew to do the work. It takes three years for buffer plantings to be established and more to become truly naturalized. Some experts suggest start small with a no mow area.
Maintenance may be difficult, especially during the first three years. Weed control, elimination of invasive plants, watering new plants, seeding, reseeding and mowing need to be included in a maintenance plan.

(Damage along the Monocacy Creek)

So, as we pave over paradise, we may need to give up some of our old standards and install riparian buffers and rain gardens as well as making a concerted effort to preserve open space.

It’s not easy but it can (and is) being done. Check out the brochure by Bushkill Stream Conservancy, "Establishing Streamside Buffer Areas in Your Park or Community".

(Footbridge across the Monocacy Creek in the park)

PA Environment Digest “Flooding and the Value of Riparian Buffers – Conservation Tools for LandownersBy Brian J. Vadino, Wildlands Conservancy

More benefits from Maryland Cooperative Extension

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