Surface Runoff Water Quality in a Managed Three Zone Riparian Buffer
Journal of Environmental Quality , 34 , 2005

Lowrance, R., Sheridan, J.M.

Received for publication July 26, 2004. Managed riparian forest buffers are an important conservation practice but there are little data on the water quality effects of buffer management. We measured surface runoff volumes and nutrient concentrations and loads in a riparian buffer system consisting of (moving down slope from the field) a grass strip, a managed forest, and an unmanaged forest. The managed forest consisted of sections of clear-cut, thinned, and mature forest. The mature forest had significantly lower flow-weighted concentrations of nitrate, ammonium, total Kjeldahl N (TKN), sediment TKN, total N (nitrate + TKN), dissolved molybdate reactive P (DMRP), total P, and chloride. The average buffer represented the conditions along a stream reach with a buffer system in different stages of growth. Compared with the field output, flow-weighted concentrations of nitrate, ammonium, DMRP, and total P decreased significantly within the buffer and flow-weighted concentrations of TKN, total N, and chloride increased significantly within the buffer. All loads decreased significantly from the field to the middle of the buffer, but most loads increased from the middle of the buffer to the sampling point nearest the stream because surface runoff volume increased near the stream. The largest percentage reduction of the incoming nutrient load (at least 65% for all nutrient forms) took place in the grass buffer zone because of the large decrease (68%) in flow. The average buffer reduced loadings for all nutrient species, from 27% for TKN to 63% for sediment P. The managed forest and grass buffer combined was an effective buffer system.