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Managing Manure: The Role of Riparian Buffers

Fact Sheet Equine Facilities Manure Management Practices June 2003

Equestrians have become aware of the potential environmental impacts that may be caused by their
horses and are actively seeking solutions to minimize these problems. A typical 1,000 pound horse may
produce 0.75 cubic feet per day of solid waste plus urine, therefore appropriate manure management
practices must be implemented at equestrian facilities in order to control runoff containing wastes and
thereby protect water quality in nearby streams. *
A number of management practices to store, compost and recycle horse manure to help reduce its
environmental impact have been developed and are discussed in other fact sheets and conservation
practice manuals for horses (see references at the end of this fact sheet). Riparian Buffers- strips of
dense, vegetative cover which include grasses, soft stemmed plants (forbs), shrubs and trees growing in
streamside areas- are one of the most effective tools to help assure clean runoff from horse facilities.
Buffers can be considered a last line of defense against the natural downslope flow of runoff down
streambanks before that runoff reaches the creek. As with all horse keeping practices, buffers should be
integrated with other proven pollution control and management practices and incorporated into a
facility’s conservation plan to maximize their effectiveness in protecting overall water quality. Contact
your local RCD office for conservation planning assistance.¤

Types of Buffers
W hile there are many types
of buffers used in conser-
vation practices, their functions
parian Buffers, because of their
multiple values to humans and
associated root systems. Rivers
and larger streams with year
round flows may support a full
are much the same: to improve sized forest on the banks and
and protect ground and surface floodplain. Smaller perennial
water quality, reduce erosion, and creeks with lower flows may have
provide protection and cover for limited tree growth which closely
wildlife and aquatic life. Filter
strips, swales, grass waterways, Inside Contents…….
and shelterbelts (rows of trees
serving as windbreaks) or hedge-
Types of Buffers.………………1
rows (plantings along fence lines
to shelter wildlife), are all exam-
Streams and Water
ples of conservation buffers that
may be applied to specific site Quality……….…………………2
conditions. Buffers slow water Proper drainage & buffer
runoff, catch sediment and en- Creation and
alongside pasture.
hance water infiltration in the Improvement……..….…….. 3-4
buffer area itself. Buffers can A Riparian Buffer is an area of
trap particles of soil and organic permanent vegetation located ad- Maintenance
material, utilize the nutrients jacent to a stream or creek, that is Tips……………..……………….4
from fertilizers and manure, ab- managed to maintain the integ-
sorb runoff into the soil to break rity of the waterway, to reduce Stables and Horse
down pesticides, pathogens, and pollution, and to provide food, Ranches…….…………………...5
other constituents of runoff, habitat, and thermal protection
thereby minimizing the chances of for fish and wildlife. Riparian References Cited…...………….5
these potential pollutants reach- buffers often act to provide stream
ing creeks. One of the most im- bank stabilization because of
portant types of buffers are Ri- their extensive plant cover and

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hugs the bottom and lower sides Area. Riparian areas are typi- creekwater. Some plants and
of the creek channel. Flow and cally rich in wildlife due to the trees are dependent on year-
flood conditions can vary complex, layered habitat which, round water in the root zone
widely, and it is wise to be fa- and grow close to the banks of
miliar with current and past the creek; others prefer positions
flow events in your stream when higher on the bank or flood-
establishing a riparian buffer plain. Therefore soil moisture
zone is being considered. and shade conditions can vary
Depending upon what the land greatly in the streamside area.
can naturally support, riparian This is important to understand
cover may consist of a dense when choosing plants if new
mix of grasses, grass-like plantings are planned for the
plants, forbs (soft-stemmed riparian buffer.¤
plants), shrubs such as berries,
vines such as wild grape, and/
or trees such as willows, red Grassed drainage area.
alders, sycamores, maples, and
other native plants typically if fully developed, includes a
found along streams in the Bay leafy forest canopy to shade
shrubs, groundcovers below and

How Riparian Buffers Work to Enhance the Streamside

Area and Protect Water Quality.
Sediment and pollution utilization and soil storage fol- near-surface groundwater will
filter lowed by breakdown, minimizes reach the waterway at a much
the amount of sediment and slower rate over a longer period
pollutants that could enter the of time than if it had directly
R iparian vegetation slows
down runoff, allows wa-
ter to infiltrate, and causes
waterway. flowed into the waterway. Wa-
ter infiltration helps control
flooding and maintains water
the sediment (particles of soil Streambank and bed flow even during dry periods.
and organic material) and pol-
lutants to settle out of the water stabilizer
and deposit in the buffer. Grass Water holding capacity
and stems of forbs and shrubs
slow the rate of flow of water P lant roots hold bank soil
together and plant stems

down streambanks (through the protect banks by deflecting the iparian Buffers benefit
buffer) thereby increasing infil- cutting action of storm runoff. aquatic habitat by im-
tration of water into the soil. The vegetation helps stabilize proving the quality of nearby
Soil sediments and pollutants banks and reduces erosion. Ri- waters though shading, filter-
are then trapped, modified by parian Buffers also reduce the ing, and moderating stream
soil bacteria, or used by the amount of scouring because the flow. Shade provided by the
various plant root systems for vegetation absorbs surface run- plants maintains cooler, more
growth. Nutrients from manure off, which slows down water even water temperatures.
dissolved in runoff can be taken velocity. Cooler water holds more oxygen
up and used by plants that are that helps reduce stress on fish
vigorous and actively growing. and other aquatic animals.
Other contaminants in runoff Water Flow Regulator
Plant debris also contributes to
from horse facilities can include
pesticide residues (fly sprays
and wormers) herbicide resi-
W ith the vegetation slow-
ing down the velocity of
the runoff, the Riparian Buffer
a more complex food web pro-
viding a food source to mi-
crobes, insects and other inver-
dues, chemicals from soaps and allows water to infiltrate the tebrates benefiting all fish and
other horse-care products, and soil and recharge the ground- wildlife.
pathogens. The processes of water supply. Another positive
particle trapping, infiltration, environmental benefit is that

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Wildlife Habitat plants amend the soil, and host Having a Riparian Buffer along
innumerable bugs and other soil- your creek adds to the value of
dwelling animals. Continuous your land because it improves the

T he distinctive habitat of-

fered by riparian buffers
provides food, water and homes to
stretches of Riparian Buffer also
serve as safe wildlife travel corri-
dors, and if oriented across the

a multitude of plant and animal path of prevailing winds, can

species, including those rarely serve as a windbreak. The trees
found outside this narrow band of and tall shrubs in a buffer can
land. The layers of vegetation in a also absorb or collect airborne
riparian zone include a leafy can- dust particles.
opy which is home to many birds, Aesthetic
including flycatchers, owls and
raptors which are helpful to

equestrians in insect and rodent he biological complexity
control. Many shrubs provide and natural beauty result-
cover and food; notably seeds and ing from a Riparian Buffer are
berries for birds. On the forest visually pleasing. Riparian Buff- Vegetated slope to drainage.
floor are flowering annual and ers are especially valuable in pro-
perennial plants which support viding a green screen along wa-
numerous beneficial insects. Lay- terways, blocking views of nearby
ers of decomposing leaves from neighbors, and providing privacy.

How to Create or Improve a Riparian Buffer

M any coastal streams

flow through narrow
valleys where usable land is at
gentle slopes and even surfaces
result in greater sheet flow of
water through the buffer,
and utilization of nutrients, but
a low benefit for bank stabiliza-
tion and flood protection. Trees
a premium. The minimum thereby maximizing benefit. have a high benefit for flood
width of a Riparian Buffer will Wider buffer strips have longer and bank stabilization because
be dependent upon a number of flow lengths for treating runoff. of their deep and extensive an-
factors specific to a property This combined with nearly flat choring root system, but no abil-
such as the size of the stream, to very gently sloping stream ity to filter sediments. Always
slope of the stream bank along sides and dense ground cover use local native vegetation, and
individual reaches, the total vegetation will allow maximum plant at the appropriate time of
amount of land available, exist- infiltration. . Greater width the year. Be aware of the
ing land uses, and economic may be required for steeper amount of sunlight that is
factors. Generally, the wider slopes, because the faster rate of available below the tree canopy
the buffer, the greater the envi- runoff flow through the buffer (if present) , as some plants and
ronmental benefit. Narrow means les opportunity for parti- most grasses require sunny con-
buffers require careful consid- cles to be trapped and water to ditions. Evergreen trees keep
eration of slope and selection of be infiltrated. Wider buffers are their leaves year round, so they
vegetation to insure effective- needed if sediment loads are may block needed sunlight dur-
ness and have reduced wildlife high in runoff flowing into the ing the winter months. How-
habitat benefits. buffer. ever, evergreen trees provide
good wildlife habitat during
Slope and soil conditions must Selection of appropriate plant those months. Plant some of
be considered in order to maxi- materials including the right each if possible, such as a mix
mize water infiltration in the mix and percentage of grasses, of life (evergreen) and decidu-
soil. Surface runoff may be car- forbs, shrubs and trees deter- ous oaks.
ried downward or infiltrated mines the effectiveness of the When establishing a new buffer,
into the soil if the water is flow- buffer and therefore the benefits the choice of plants may also
ing slowly in a very thin to be achieved. For example, depend upon the availability of
(shallow) layer called ‘sheet grasses have a high benefit for irrigation for the first two to
flow’. Generally, buffers with sediment trapping, filtration three years of plant growth. If
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irrigation is present, plantings not be removed and grading fencing needed to keep horses
of trees and shrubs can be done should not be done in stream- and other livestock out of the
year round, however late fall is side areas without permission. area. The NRCS and RCD can
usually the best time to plant. also explain the value of conser-
Without irrigation, grasses and A first step in creating or im- vation plans and federal cost
wildflowers can be planted from proving a riparian buffer is to share programs, including en-
seed in October, oak acorns can contact your local Resources rolling your buffer in the Con-
be planted in chicken wire bas- Conservation District (RCD) to servation Reserve Program.¤
kets to protect them from go- obtain general assistance
phers, and willow cuttings can through the Natural Resources
be placed into soils that are Conservation Service (NRCS).
naturally damp or wet most of Alternatively, you may contact a
the year. Check with local na- private, NRCS approved techni-
tive plant experts or trained cal assistance provider who can
nursery staff for further ideas help answer questions specific
about non-irrigated planting to your land and stream bank
methods. Horses and livestock situation. They can also help
should be fenced out of riparian evaluate the existing riparian
areas. Finally, you may also be area to identify needed repairs
advised to remove non-native such as eroding streambanks,
vegetation from the riparian potential management issues Paddock separated from road by
zone. However, native vegeta- and constraints such as stream- vegetated strip.
tion in the buffer zone should bank crossings for horses, or

Maintenance Tips

T o maintain their effective-

ness, Riparian Buffers
need to be managed. Regularly
Grass and forbs in a Riparian
Buffer can benefit from mowing
during the early years after
Replacing dead or dying trees
and shrubs and reseeding bare
soil are important maintenance
scheduled maintenance should planting. Mowing increases the practices during the first few
be implemented right after the vigor of grasses, and encourages years following establishment.
buffer has been planted. This new blades of grass and more An annual inspection should be
may include weed control, re- stems at ground level – which made to identify areas in need
planting trees and shrubs that increases density and hence of replanting/reseeding. Re-
did not survive the initial plant- sediment trapping capacity. planting can be done in the
ing, reseeding bare areas, prun- Grasses and forbs often grow spring or fall. Trees should be
ing, thinning, mulching and slowly above ground during the pruned during late fall, winter,
irrigation system monitoring. first year or two after establish- or early spring while the plants
Riparian Buffers should be ment because much of their en- are dormant. Thinning should
carefully inspected annually or ergy is put into producing a root take place in late spring if tree
after major storm events for any system. During this time an- or shrub growth is too dense
damage or problems that may nual weeds can grow rapidly. and groundcover plants are be-
have occurred. A key concern is Mowing just before annual ing shaded out. This can be
making sure that runoff to be weeds produce their seed keeps done systematically by remov-
“treated” in the buffer is flowing the seed from maturing and ing every other row of branches
through it in a shallow, slow- producing more weeds. If trees or every other tree.¤
moving layer and not in chan- or tall shrubs begin to shade
nels or tiny channels called out soil-hugging grasses and
“rills” . This can best be seen forbs, the runoff-slowing and
during or just after a storm particle-trapping work of the
when flow patterns are obvious. groundcover plants will be lim-
Repairs should be made as soon ited.
as possible to insure proper
buffer function.

How Can Riparian Buffers Help Horse Stables and Ranches?
A s part of your overall con-
servation plan, Riparian
Buffers will help improve water
amount of contaminants in run-
off, can provide a final point of
protection to keep manure,
quality of life. And these quali-
ties add value to your prop-
quality through filtering proc- urine, and other chemicals, out
esses, provide erosion and sedi- of surface waters. Riparian
ment control through appropri- Buffers provide erosion control
ate vegetation, create suitable by stabilizing banks with vege-
habitat for wildlife, and add to tation. This means less land is
the value of your property aes- lost or washed downstream and
thetics. Both horses and their more land is available for grow-
owners will end up with better ing and grazing. Riparian
drinking water as surface and buffers also provide beautiful
ground water sources are pro- landscapes, which supply pri-
tected. Riparian Buffers, used vacy, shade, windbreaks and
in concert with other conserva- other environmental qualities
tion measures to reduce the that we associate with a good Well vegetated riparian zone
keeps creeks healthy.

Resources and References

* The volume of manure produced daily has been estimated by various writers and researchers. This figure does not include bedding.
The figure used in this fact sheet, .75 cubic foot per day per 1000 lb. Horse, corresponds with that in the Horse Keeping: A Guide to
Land Management for Clean Water. The source for the figure is Livestock Waste Facilities Handbook, 1985, Midwest Plan Service-
18, Iowa State University, Ames Iowa.

National Conservation Buffer Council:

Natural Resources Conservation Service:
Riparian Herbaceous Cover, Technical Standard 390

The following Fact Sheets were developed by the Council of Bay Area RCDs and are available from
your local RCD office:
Land Application of Horse Manure, CBARCD, October, 1999.
Equine Manure Storage Fact Sheet
Equine Facility Site Assessment Checklist, Available from the San Mateo County RCD
Composting Horse Manure, CBARCD, June, 2000
Horse Manure Management, CBARCD, June, 2000
Portable Backyard Garden, CBARCD, March, 1999
• Photographic Monitoring, CBARCD, June, 2000

See “Riparian Buffers” in Horse Keeping: A Guide to Land Management for Clean Water, 2002, manual avail-
able from Council of Bay Area RCDs

RCD Websites: 1) Marin RCD and Southern Sonoma RCD -

2) Alameda RCD -
3) San Mateo RCD -¤

The “Equine Facilities Assistance Program” is a grant funded project of the Council of Bay Area Resource Conservation Dis-
tricts, and the Alameda, Marin, San Mateo and Southern Sonoma RCD’s. The manure management fact sheet series was
produced with the assistance of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Funding for this project has been provided to the Council of Bay Area RCD’s in part by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA)
pursuant to Assistance Agreement No. C9-989697-00-0 and any amendments thereto which has been awarded to the State Water Resources
Control Board (SWRCB) for the implementation of California’s Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program. The contents of this document do not
necessarily reflect the views and policies of the USEPA or the SWRCB, nor does mention of trade names or commercial products constitute en-
dorsement or recommendation for use.