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Riparian Buffer Protection

For years, ecologists tried to pass legislation to require riparian buffers along the state’s rivers, streams, and wetlands. Their goal was to require that vegetation be left intact within 100 or 200 feet of water bodies to protect water quality. Opposition, however, has kept this legislation from advancing.

The Connecticut River Gateway Commission, with its authority to adopt zoning standards that its eight member towns may also adopt, was able to establish a 50-foot riparian buffer in the Zone.

This riparian buffer standard requires that all vegetation be retained within a minimum* of 50 feet of the Connecticut River, its tributaries, and marshes in the Zone to (1) protect and enhance water quality; and (2) use vegetation — low growth and mature trees – to preserve the traditional river scene in the Zone as development continues.

The regulation allows for the clearing of a 5-foot path for waterfront property owners to gain access to the water. In addition, waterfront property owners are permitted to remove the limbs on the lower third of mature trees to gain river views. This limited pruning, often called “limbing up,” allows property owners to retain their views, while neighbors and river users enjoy looking at natural vistas.

an example of a good riparian buffer in front of a homesite

Riparian buffers benefit homeowners and nature

Retaining natural vegetation between manicured lawns, often maintained with fertilizers and pesticides, and the water reduces the potential for these chemicals to wash into the river harming fish, birds and plant life. Riparian buffers are effective “filters” that reduce the flow of pollutants and also stabilize slopes to prevent erosion.

Although these standards can’t force property owners to create riparian buffers, they do prevent their removal. The Commission will work with property owners during application processes to establish effective buffers where none exist.

For more information on how you can help protect our beautiful river valley, email us at

*The Gateway Commission Standards are minimum protections agreed to by all eight towns in the Zone. Towns may set stronger standards. The Town of Old Saybrook, e.g., has adopted a 100-foot riparian buffer requirement.