Where would we be without trees?

Above my desk is a poster with an idyllic Ozarks river scene, complete with a beached canoe on a gravel bar.  

“Without trees… we’d be up a creek without a paddle,” the poster states, reminding me of the importance of trees to protecting water quality. 

How exactly do trees serve as a buffer against stormwater runoff and pollutants? Let’s pull back the tree canopy and a take a look.

A riparian area includes trees, shrubs and native grasses that grow along the banks of streams and lakes. 

This creates a “buffer zone” along the stream that helps slow runoff as well as spreading out excess water and holding sediment before it can be washed into the stream.

According to the Arbor Day Foundation, more than 80 percent of nitrogen and phosphorus can be kept from entering a stream by being trapped by riparian forest. 

In addition, riparian areas act as a sponge, soaking up excess water and recharging our groundwater supply.

Besides being known for their water quality benefits, riparian buffers also create habitats for a variety of wildlife. Buffer zones contain food, and cover and serve as important travel corridors for migrating wildlife. 

In addition, tree-shaded banks provide cool water and cover for the many species of fish and other aquatic creatures that live in our local waters. 

In this case, fish really do “grow on trees.” And it’s not just animals that benefit; humans can also enjoy a cool, shady spot to fish, canoe or kayak.

And while it may not seem like trees found in our urban areas are involved in protecting our local waters, they do play an important role in managing stormwater runoff. 

Tree-lined streets in urban areas help reduce and filter runoff. Leaves slow falling rain drops, helping to prevent soil erosion, as well as building a spongy layer of organic matter which soaks up excess rainfall. 

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