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Water Quality Buffer

What is a Water Quality Buffer?

Referred to as a “riparian buffer”, “stream/wetland buffer”, “aquatic buffer”, or even just “buffer”, a water quality buffer is a vegetated area, including trees, shrubs, and herbaceous vegetation, that is directly adjacent to a water resource, such as a stream, lake/reservoir, wetland or even a sinkhole




Relationship between riparian buffer width and its functions (adapted from Hawes and Smith, 2005). Distance of benefits varies due to site conditions such as slope Credit: TN Urban Riparian Handbook



As the buffer matures, distinctive vegetative layers are formed. Credit: TN Urban Riparian Handbook/p>


Why are water quality buffers important?

Water quality buffers have many benefits including shading the waterway to keep it cool,  providing protection from stream bank erosion, filtering pollutants in surface water runoff, and providing critical habitat for the surrounding plants and wildlife



Credit: Photo by at Pixabay


About the Chattanooga Water Quality Buffer Tool

The City's Water Quality Buffer Program operates under the direction of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit from the State of Tennessee. The permit requires the City to “develop and implement a set of requirements to establish, protect and maintain water quality buffers along all streams, ponds, wetlands, springs, reservoirs or lakes at new development and redevelopment sites”


  • City Code Section 31-324.2 provides the City’s stated buffer requirements based on the requirements given in the City’s NPDES permit. This section of code was last updated on November 28, 2017 with Ordinance Number 13251
  • As the City seeks to make the process of water quality buffer mitigation easier to navigate, the current internal policies have been updated with the release of a new tool for public use beginning October 1, 2022
  • Refer to the following Memo for a more detailed summary of the Buffer Tool, how it was developed and how it works:


Who should use the Buffer Tool?

  • The tool is required for any individual applying for a land disturbing permit that is seeking to disturb any portion of the required Water Quality Buffer


How to use the Buffer Tool:

Directions are embedded in the tool on each tab. Use the below diagram and guide for additional help navigating the process of using the buffer tool


Any property owner who has acquired, or should have acquired, a Land Disturbing Permit for work performed in a water quality buffer must record the following DECLARATION OF RESTRICTIVE COVENANTS at the Deeds Office as a permanent protection instrument for the buffer.


Stormwater Division

1250 Market Street, Suite 2100
Chattanooga, TN 37403
(423) 643 - 5877

To report an issue please call 311 at 423-643-6311

Click here to view information on the proposed FEMA Floodplain Map Update

Check Mocassin Bend Wastewater Treatment Plant Information for sanitary sewer information

Photo by Phillip Stevens and Matt Lea