Today, I went on a field trip to tour two riparian buffer projects on farms near Pendleton, Indiana. As an environmentalist, I have often advocated for the use of riparian buffers, but this was my first chance to see some up close!
What is a riparian buffer? A riparian buffer is a vegetated strip between a field or other area and an adjacent waterway. Both grass buffers (often called filter strips) and forested buffer strips are very important to the waterways: they hold soil to prevent erosion, slow down run-off to prevent agricultural stormwater contamination, and provide streamside habitats. Forested riparian buffers have the added benefits of shading the stream, providing better streambank stabilization, and providing nutrients to the aquatic communities.
The first site we visited was a planting done in 2007. I was impressed by how tall the plants were…until I realized the plants I was looking at were not the trees, but were in fact giant ragweed. (In case you were wondering, yes I am allergic to ragweed, like many Hoosiers. Luckily, the effects are starting to wear off, but I’ve been sneezing quite a bit since then!) But when we weaved our way through the ragweed, we could see numerous trees – sycamores, oaks, maples, walnuts, etc. This particular site was located in a flood plain along Fall Creek. As you can see in the picture, the setting was beautiful!
The second site we visited was a planting just done in May of this year. This site was easier to see – without extensive weed growth, we could see the rows of saplings, and the shrubbery and wildflowers were just beginning to take hold. This site was particularly exciting to me because the farmhouse had solar panels on the roof! The farmer told us that he had 10 30-inch panels, and that he was getting ready to install another photovoltaic array.
Again, the site was beautiful, but I noticed a lot of what I first took to be algae; as it turns out, it was duckweed – a very similar type of plant that overruns water bodies that are contaminated with too much manure. (The main difference in identifying it is that algae will cover the water like a blanket, but duckweed is multiple small, round plants floating on the surface of the water.) Both algae and duckweed are common in Indiana’s smaller tributaries and even larger waterways, but it is still sad to see.
It is always nice to know that some farmers really do their best to protect the environment. We always get bombarded with pictures and stories from the farmers who spill or mis-apply manure — the ones who cause water quality problems and fish kills are the ones who make headlines. Seeing farmers that are working to protect the waters of the state is wonderfully refreshing!