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Vegetation that grows along streams, rivers, and reservoirs acts as a protective buffer between land and water. A well-vegetated buffer—especially one with native plants—helps filter and slow pollution runoff, keep the water at the right temperature for aquatic life, prevents soil erosion, and provides essential nutrients for aquatic life. Buffers are especially important to freshwater mussels and fish species, which require good water quality and a clean, gravelly reservoir or stream bottom for reproduction.
The SAMAB members work with partners and private landowners in priority watersheds to establish vegetated buffers in an effort to improve water quality and protect aquatic biodiversity. In addition, the Cooperative members encourage owners of streambank or shoreline property to protect and restore riparian buffers with native vegetation. Encouragement of private landowners to maintain and establish vegetative buffers and the agriculture sector to implement best-management practices improves water quality and protects biological diversity. The Tennessee Valley Authority manages its public lands along the much of the Tennessee River and lakes under TVA’s Shoreline Management Policy. The Shoreline Management Policy was established in 1999 to improve the protection of shoreline and aquatic resources while allowing reasonable access to the water. Riparian buffers are a key part of the shoreline protection.
An analysis conducted by the Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership, or SARP, assessed the condition of riparian habitat within a 30-meter buffer along streams and rivers throughout its 14-state region, and provided a baseline against which to measure future progress toward achieving riparian habitat conservation and restoration goals. The analysis found that approximately 22.4 percent of the riparian land cover in the SARP region was disturbed or degraded in some way. Seventy-five percent of the riparian disturbances were related to agricultural uses, and the rest were related to urban land uses. Deciduous forests and wooded wetlands make up approximately half of the riparian area in the SARP region. The SARP region is substantially larger than that of the Southern Appalachians, and includes Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas, in addition to the region highlighted in the current analysis.