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Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework: 2. Classification of Riparian Buffer Design Types with Application to Assess and Map Stream Corridors

M. D. Tomer, K. M. B. Boomer, S. A. Porter, B. K. Gelder, D. E. James, E. McLellan
Journal of environmental quality 2015 v.44 no.3 pp. 768-779
buffers, classification, digital elevation models, ecosystem services, groundwater, landforms, lidar, planning, pollution load, riparian areas, riparian buffers, runoff, sediments, streambank stability, streams, vegetation, water table, watersheds, Illinois, Iowa
A watershed’s riparian corridor presents opportunities to stabilize streambanks, intercept runoff, and influence shallow groundwater with riparian buffers. This paper presents a system to classify these riparian opportunities and apply them toward riparian management planning in hydrologic unit code 12 watersheds. In two headwater watersheds from each of three landform regions found in Iowa and Illinois, high-resolution (3-m grid) digital elevation models were analyzed to identify spatial distributions of surface runoff contributions and zones with shallow water tables (SWTs) (within 1.5 m of the channel elevation) along the riparian corridors. Results were tabulated, and a cross classification was applied. Classes of buffers include those primarily placed to (i) trap runoff and sediment, (ii) influence shallow groundwater, (iii) address both runoff and shallow groundwater, and (iv) maintain/improve stream bank stability. Riparian buffers occupying about 2.5% of these six watersheds could effectively intercept runoff contributions from 81 to 94% of the watersheds’ contributing areas. However, extents of riparian zones where a narrow buffer (<10 m wide) would adequately intercept runoff but where >25 m width of buffer vegetation could root to a SWT varied according to landform region (p < 0.10). Yet, these wide-SWT riparian zones were widespread and occupied 23 to 53% of the lengths of stream banks among the six watersheds. The wide-SWT setting provides opportunities to reduce dissolved nutrients (particularly NO₃–N) carried via groundwater. This riparian classification and mapping system is part of a ArcGIS toolbox and could provide a consistent basis to identify riparian management opportunities in Midwestern headwater catchments wherever high-resolution elevation data are available.