More than 50% of the water that enters Lake George comes from streams. It is essential that these unique water resources, both large and small, are protected to improve and preserve the water quality of the lake. A natural buffer along a stream bank, like a shoreline buffer by a lake, is a simple and highly effective way to protect a stream from chemical pollutants and unhealthy levels of nutrients and erosion.
A stream buffer is a forested strip of land on both sides of a stream composed of trees, shrubs, herbaceous and woody stemmed groundcover plants and duff. Figure 18 illustrates the importance of buffers to stream health. Stream buffers protect property from erosion and flooding by stabilizing the stream bank and containing floodwaters within the stream corridor and buffer area. Stream buffers are beautiful and virtually maintenance free when populated with native plant species. A fully functioning buffer has numerous environmental benefits that not only protect Lake George, but also the entire watershed. These benefits include the following:
Removing nutrients: Stream buffers significantly clean and reduce storm-water before it reaches a stream by infiltrating and treating the runoff. The roots of trees, shrubs and ground cover plants draw up excess nutrients much more effectively than the shallow roots of a compacted grass lawn.
Trapping sediment: The complexity and uneven terrain of a buffer acts as a trap to prevent sediment from entering streams that feed into the lake. Sediment can impede the gills of fish, harm other aquatic organisms and limit habitat for in-stream spawning. Unmanaged sediment also creates deltas. In Lake George, substantial deltas have formed at the outflows of some streams. The lake has been listed by New York State since 2002 as an impaired water body due to sediment.
One important study found that sediment loading is controlled by streams with fully functioning buffers. Stream channels where stream buffers, fallen trees and natural debris have been removed experience a 500% increase in the export of both fine and coarse sediment and decayed matter. Fallen trees within the stream channel are important for maintaining and creating debris dams, which create habitat for fish and aquatic organisms.