vegetated buffer credit NRCS

Riparian buffer along Bear Creek, in Story County, Iowa. Photo courtesy of NRCS.

Horses can be hard on sensitive streams. They can damage stream banks, churn up the water and defecate in it. Horse properties can protect the areas surrounding their drainage ways, ponds and streams with vegetated buffers. Areas downhill from barns, muck heaps and heavily used pastures especially need such protection. Buffers protect streams and ponds from pollutants and eroded soil (sediment) that can wash into them from areas above.

Vegetated buffer or filter strips manage sheets of water running overland but not concentrated flows from pipes or swales. They slow storm water. It then soaks into the soil and the groundwater. The strips also absorb pollutants through their plants.

Place buffer strips a minimum of 20 feet wide uphill from a pond or 50 feet wide on each side of a stream. Make the length of the buffer area sufficient to absorb runoff from any uphill areas. Plantings require one or more seasons to establish themselves. Gently sloping areas that do not need leveling make the best buffer strips.

If necessary, grade steep drops near water to gentle slopes in order to create buffer strips. Keep the uphill slope(s) to no more than 15 percent (15 feet in vertical rise for every 100 feet in horizontal measure). Vegetated buffers best absorb water, sediment and pollutants when soils drain well. Plants also establish and grow more abundantly.

Plant buffer areas heavily. Native plants provide the deep roots needed for periodic flooding. Use trees and plants suitable for the climate and soils.

Prevent direct access by horses to water bodies and buffer areas. Locate watering devices accordingly. Provide additional infiltration mechanisms around watering areas. Fence where needed.

In addition to treating water, these buffer zones provide habitat corridors. They cool water and land in hot weather.

Your local Extension Office, found here or here, can help you decide what and where to plant a vegetated buffer.