Water Resources Program  |  Stream Buffers

A stream - or riparian - buffer is an area of vegetation next to a stream, reservoir, wetland, or pond. A healthy buffer consists of trees, shrubs, and ground cover that:

  • slows down and filters stormwater runoff to protect water quality
  • prevents erosion
  • provides shade and habitat for fish and other aquatic life
  • provides wildlife habitat and connectivity

Albemarle County's Water Protection Ordinance requires that vegetated buffers be preserved or established along most County water bodies and limits the activities that can occur within those buffers.  Limiting activity within buffer areas is most often required to obtain permits under the Virginia Erosion and Sediment Control Program (VESCP) and the Virginia Stormwater Management Program (VSMP).  Generally, a buffer width of 100 feet is required along streams (on both sides), ponds, and wetlands. A buffer width of 200 feet is required adjacent to public water supply reservoirs.  Within all buffers, building, grading, and other development activities are restricted. 

Where Are Buffers Required and How Wide Are They?

Within the County's Rural Area, buffers must extend 100 feet from both sides of all streams, regardless of whether they flow all year (perennial) or just flow part of the year (intermittent).  Buffers must also extend 100 feet from ponds and wetlands associated with those streams.  In the County's Development Areas, buffers must extend 100 feet from both sides of only perennial streams and the ponds and wetlands associated with those streams.  Around each public water supply reservoir, buffers must extend 200 feet from the 100-year floodplain. Ephemeral channels - which flow only during, and immediately following, rainfall events - do not have buffer protection requirements.

To determine whether designated buffers exist in particular properties, go to the County GIS web and search for an address or parcel. Once you have mapped the property, click on the "Critical Resources Tab" above the map; designated buffers will be displayed in orange.

For more information on protecting and enhancing stream buffer areas, view the following information brochure:

Stream Buffer Guide  (KB)  - a property owner's guide to manage riparian buffers and protect water resources

 Staff contact:  Frank Pohl