Environmental Management

, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 559–573 | Cite as

Hydrochemical Buffer Assessment in Agricultural Landscapes: From Local to Catchment Scale

  • Valérie Viaud
  • Philippe Merot
  • Jacques Baudry


Non-point-source pollution of surface and groundwater is a prominent environmental issue in rural catchments, with major consequences on water supply and aquatic ecosystem quality. Among surface-water protection measures, environmental or landscape management policies support the implementation and the management of buffer zones. Although a great number of studies have focused on buffer zones, quantification of the buffer effect is still a recurring question.

The purpose of this article is a critical review of the assessment of buffer-zone functioning. Our objective is to provide land planners and managers with a set of variables to assess the limits and possibilities for quantifying buffer impact at the catchment scale. We first consider the scale of the local landscape feature. The most commonly used empirical method for assessing buffers is to calculate water/nutrient budgets from inflow–outflow monitoring at the level of landscape structures. We show that several other parameters apart from mean depletion of flux can be used to describe buffer functions. Such parameters include variability, with major implication for water management. We develop a theoretical framework to clarify the assessment of the buffer effect and propose a systematic analysis taking account of temporal variability. Second, we review the current assessment of buffer effects at the catchment scale according to the theoretical framework established at the local scale. Finally, we stress the limits of direct empirical assessment at the catchment scale and, in particular, we emphasize the hierarchy in hydrological processes involved at the catchment scale: The landscape feature function is constrained by other factors (climate and geology) that are of importance at a broader spatial and temporal scale.

Buffer zone Buffer effect Catchment Non-point-source pollution 


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The authors thank the Conseil Régional de Bretagne for its financial support.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York, Inc. 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Valérie Viaud
    • 1
    • 2
  • Philippe Merot
    • 1
  • Jacques Baudry
    • 2
  1. 1.UMR INRA–ENSAR Sol Agronomie Spatialisation de Rennes–QuimperCedexFrance
  2. 2.INRA SAD–ArmoriqueCedexFrance

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