Savannah Valley District

Keeping Water Clean with Vegetated Buffers

Ellen Sturup Comeau, Water Resources Agent

An Eroding Shoreline: Photo by Guinn Wallover

With the summer’s heat, people all over Beaufort County flock to the County’s beautiful ponds, rivers, marshes, and beaches. This exciting waterfront lifestyle keeps the Beaufort County Water Resources Agent busy with site visits. While the specifics of the questions vary from resident to resident, the theme remains the same. What can I do to keep this water clean?

Several Volunteers: Photo by Ellen Sturup Comeau

If you live along a pond, river, or marsh, one easy way to protect water quality is to grow a vegetated buffer. Vegetated buffers use native plants to beautify and protect the waterfront from stormwater runoff and erosion. They are a functional solution to shoreline erosion, poor water quality, and invasive weeds. You may have heard of vegetated buffers but by a different name. They are also known as vegetated shorelines, planted shorelines, shorescapes, shoreline gardens, etc. No matter their title or design, though, one thing all vegetated buffers have in common is that they do not include turf grass. 

Pond Buffer: Photo by Guinn Wallover

While it’s common to see turf grass along the water’s edge, turf grass makes a poor shoreline plant. It has a shallow root system that does not tolerate moist soils well. The combination of these factors means water easily undercuts turf grass, leading to bank erosion, instability, and collapse. Bank erosion can lead to excess sediment and nutrients entering the waterbody, increasing the intensity of algal blooms and reducing water quality. Not to mention, you lose valuable property when it erodes! Replacing turf with a vegetated buffer allows plants better adapted to life at the water’s edge to protect the bank from erosion with their roots.

Vegetated buffers also have several other benefits. They can also improve water quality by slowing stormwater runoff, which can carry sediment, nutrients, and other water pollutants. Vegetated buffers slow runoff as it moves through them, allowing pollution to drop out of suspension or be taken up by the buffer plants before entering the water. Planting or encouraging a vegetated buffer to grow can also protect the pond from invasive weeds. A thick, healthy buffer makes it difficult for invasive weeds to get a foothold around the water body. Check out the Clemson Extension Home and Garden Information Center For more information on the benefits of vegetated buffers!

Are you interested in learning more about keeping water clean? Contact Ellen Sturup Comeau, the Beaufort Water Resources Agent, at or (843)-473-6023. You can find her with her educational table at the Beach Sweep/River Sweep in Bluffton, SC, on September 16th and Oktoberfest in Port Royal, SC, on September 30th.

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