As the City’s name suggests, there are streams, creeks (and springs) that run throughout the city. These waterways are tributaries to the Chattahoochee River and a part of the natural infrastructure of our State’s water supply and storm water management system. The State and City have designated areas comprised of various buffers in the vicinity of these waterways to minimize land disturbance and erosion.
Determining State Water
The City of Sandy Springs has on staff an individual who determines whether a creek or stream is a state water and if the buffer is required. State waters are defined by the presence of wrested vegetation – a creek or stream that has created dirt/rock creek bottom.
Planning and Creating a Healthy Buffer Zone
Once state water has been established, a minimum buffer width of 75 feet is required by the City of Sandy Springs. The buffer zone should be thought of in layers moving from the stream to the house – 25-foot state regulated buffer is observed, followed by an additional 25-foot buffer sanctioned by the City of Sandy Springs, along with another 25-foot impervious buffer. There can be no disturbance within 50 feet of a state water, and there can be no concrete or construction within 75 feet of a state water. Landscaping is permitted in the area 50-75 feet from a state water. Any land use changes encroaching on these buffers such as decks, patios and/or walkways, requires a variance from the City’s Planning and Zoning department that is part of Community Development office.
A couple of things to consider to create and maintain a healthy buffer zone that will prevent erosion:
- Begin with a sketch or drawing to determine how many plants/trees/shrubs and their location
- Consider the size at maturity of the plants
- Generally, you should plant ground covers 1-3 feet apart, shrubs 3-5 feet apart, small trees (up to 25 feet tall at maturity) 15 feet apart and larger trees 25 feet apart
- Group some plants together to provide dense vegetation for better habitat and more storm water filtration
- If you want to provide a path for access to the water, it should be as narrow as practical and covered with mulch or other porous material to minimize erosion
- If you want to maintain a view of the water, you can create a “view corridor” of low growing vegetation in a selected area.
What Happens When a Stream Un-Meanders
The meandering flow of tributaries, by design, naturally mitigates flooding. Streams are not pipes. When we eliminate natural meanders in streams, and attempt to “nail” the stream into a straight line, the effects are often dramatic. Excessive energy often becomes trapped in the stream channel. Erosion increases as the stream attempts to recreate the missing meanders. Floodplains often become disconnected from the stream and downstream landowners are at a greater risk of flooding and erosion.