Geospatial evaluation of riparian buffer effectiveness for watershed management

Document Type

Conference Paper/Presentation

Publication Date



Non‐point source pollution from diffuse sources such as agriculture and storm water is a significant source of water quality degradation. This overland hydrological flow pollution can be offset effectively by the presence of natural vegetation buffers in riparian areas. We have developed ecologically relevant, easily implementable, flexible, and adaptable methods to evaluate watershed water quality via geospatial analysis of riparian buffers. We developed and tested our watershed buffer evaluation system for the Tittabawassee watershed in northeast Michigan using Coastal Change Analysis Program (C‐CAP) land cover products. Two methods have been developed to prioritize catchments (1‐10km2 watersheds) of concern: (1) a drainage pattern summarization process and (2) a geospatial analysis of the filtration effectiveness of riparian vegetation. A third method, using a traversability algorithm for precision buffer placement, has been developed as a more intensive assessment for targeted catchments. Parameters in the analysis include soil conductivity, water capacity, slope, hydraulic flow, stream location, and drainage basin land cover composition. Topography and land cover were effectively combined providing information on the position of the natural riparian buffers within a watershed and their potential influence on water quality. This research will aid watershed management in numerous ways:

‐ Targets for restoration can be prioritized to maximize management effectiveness.

‐ Conservation target selection can be geospatially driven.

‐ The traversability algorithm can identify areas along river, stream, and lake perimeters where buffers should be placed and how wide buffers should be to maximize filtration effectiveness and minimize cost.

Publisher's Statement

© 2010 Soil and Water Conservation Society

Publication Title

Soil & Water Conservation Society Annual Conference