12 November 2007

Land Use Change and Riparian Buffer Zone Status in the Barnegat Bay Watershed


Rutgers Center Assesses Land Use Change and Riparian Buffer Zone Status in the Barnegat Bay Watershed

New Brunswick, NJ--The Grant F. Walton Center for Remote Sensing & Spatial Analysis (CRSSA) at Rutgers has completed a project to assess recent land use change in the Barnegat Bay watershed. The updated mapping reveals that urban land use increased from approximately 25 percent in 1995 to approximately 30 percent of the watershed in 2006. Including all altered land uses (i.e., agriculture and barren lands) puts the percentage of altered land in the watershed at over 33 percent in 2006.

"The Barnegat Bay estuary system is continuing to experience a significant conversion of forested and wetland habitats to urban land cover and thereby exacerbating nutrient loading to the estuary," said Richard Lathrop, director of CRSSA. "The Barnegat Bay Estuary Program has identified the protection of riparian buffers as vital to meeting the goals of water quality and habitat protection within the Barnegat Bay watershed."

Riparian zones may constitute the immediate buffer to a stream as well as areas that may be more physically distant but are connected through groundwater flow, such as when wetlands are in close proximity to a stream. Protected riparian buffer zones adjacent to water bodies and streams, where human development and agriculture is excluded or minimized, is advocated as a "best management practice" to reduce the impact of human developed land uses on adjacent aquatic ecosystems and downstream water quality.

"Unfortunately," said Lathrop, "our assessment shows that between 1995 and 2006, approximately 1,920 acres of riparian habitat were developed. The northern portion of the Barnegat Bay watershed, which encompasses the Metedeconk, Beaver Dam, Kettle Creek and Silver Bay sub-basins, was especially hard hit with greater than 20 percent of the riparian zone being altered for land development."

On the positive side, the study identified approximately 1,300 acres of barren land and 677 acres of agricultural land within the mapped riparian zones that could serve as potential targets for re-vegetation and restoration.

Funding for the project was provided by the Barnegat Bay National Estuary Program. To access a copy of the full report go to http://crssa.rutgers.edu/projects/coastal/riparian.

CRSSA is a research center of the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.

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