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Final Report

Desk Study on River Buffer Zone in Malaysia:

Policy, By Laws and Incentives

Submitted to: Prepared by:

National Hydraulic Research Institute of Malaysia Institut Pengurusan Alam Sekitar & Sumber Air
Ministry of Natural resources and Environment Fakulti Kejuruteraan Awam Universiti Teknologi
Lot 5733, Jalan Putra Permai Malaysia (UTM)

Tel: 03-8948 3033 Fax: 03-8948 3044 Tel: 07-5531578 Fax: 07-5531575

September 2010

The health of streams and rivers in Malaysia depends to a great extent on the land that surrounds
them. Researchers have shown that preserving naturally vegetated corridors along streams can
buffer them from degrading effects of nonpoint pollution while reducing the impact of floods,
providing habitat for wildlife and offering recreational benefits to people.

Hence, a thorough study is needed to understand the proper policies, regulations and incentives
pertaining to buffer zones, taking into consideration their functions, designs and land
implication. Local governments have the authority to develop alternatives, more effective
ordinances and guidelines for river buffer zone. However, thus far, scientifically based
guidelines for buffer policies and ordinances have not been available to them.

Consequently, NAHRIM embarked a desktop study on policies, regulation and researchers

related to river buffer zone at the end of 2009 and successfully completed it in end of 2010. I
hope that professionals such as engineers, hydrologists, developers, policy and decision makers
including urban and rural planners will find this report useful as a reference and guideline for
future developments.

Ir. Hj. Ahmad Jamalluddin bin Shaaban

Director General
National Hydraulic Research Institute of Malaysia (NAHRIM)


Special appreciation accorded to the team of study, professional and supporting staffs: Ir. Hj.
Ahmad Jamalluddin bin Shaaban, Ir. Mohd Zaki Mat Amin, Khairul Anam Musa, Prof. Dr.
Zulkifli Yusop, Dr. Mohammad Rafee Majid, Nur Elyasabath Mohd Ghazali and Norzaiha
Desk Study on River Buffer Zone in Malaysia: Policy, By Laws and Incentives Final Report


Contents Page Number

Table of Contents i
List of Tables iii
List of Figures iv

Executive Summary ES-1

Ringkasan Eksekutif ES-7

1.1 Background 1
1.2 Nature of Study 1
1.3 Project Initiator 2


2.1 Introduction 3
2.2 River Buffer Zone: Definition
in Malaysian Context 5
2.3 Current Issues Concerning
River Buffer Zone In Malaysia 8
2.4 Functions Of River Buffer Zone 9


3.1 Factors Influencing
Effectiveness of River Buffers 14
3.2 Buffer Configuration 16
3.3 Buffer Width 20
3.3.1 Variable Width vs Fixed Width 20
3.3.2 Buffer Width Formula 25
3.4 Case Studies 27
3.4.1 Case Study 1: Effects of Selective
Logging, Bukit Berembun, Negeri
Sembilan 28
3.4.2 Case Study 2: Chesapeake Bay,
Virginia, USA 30

Desk Study on River Buffer Zone in Malaysia: Policy, By Laws and Incentives Final Report


4.1 Introduction 34
4.2 Buffer Generation (with GIS) and Impact
Analysis 34
4.2.1 Description of the Study Sites 35
4.2.2 Methodology 38
4.2.3 Results and Impact Analysis 40


5.1 Introduction 48
5.2 Existing Guidelines in Malaysia 49
5.3 Policy & Guidelines, Regulations and Incentives:
Examples from Overseas 53
5.3.1 Policies And Guidelines 53
5.3.2 Regulations 57
5.3.3 Incentives 60
5.4 Conclusion 63

6.1 Buffer Widths 64
6.1.1 Widths According to Functions 69
6.1.2 Stream Orders for Protection 70
6.1.3 Prohibited Activities in the Buffer 71
6.2 Policies, Laws, Guidelines and Incentives 75
6.3 Proposed Buffer Zone Study 82
6.4 Suitable Vegetation for Buffer Zone 87

7.1 Stakeholders Workshop 89
7.2 Outcome Of The Workshop 90


Desk Study on River Buffer Zone in Malaysia: Policy, By Laws and Incentives Final Report


Table No. Title Page

2.1 Width of River Reserve Required by DID 6

2.2 Minimum Width of River Buffer Zones Cited in MSMA 8
3.1 Estimated Reduction of Nutrient Loads from Implementation
of River Buffers 15
3.2 Plant Type vs Removal Efficiency 16
3.3 Summary of Pollutant Removal Effectiveness & Wildlife Habitat
Value of Vegetated Buffers According to Buffer Width 23
3.4 Range of Minimum Widths for Meeting Specific Buffer
Objectives 25
3.5 Conservation Measures for Commercial and Closely
Supervised Logging at Berembun 29
3.6 Site Factors that Enhance or Limit Pollutant Removal
Effectiveness of Buffer 32
4.1 Areal Coverage and Percentage of Buffer
Zones of Subcatchment A of Sg. Skudai 41
4.2 Areal Coverage and Percentage of Buffer Zones of Labis
Study Area 41
4.3 Stream Density Sg Skudai vs Labis 42
4.4 Slope Range and Average of Sg Skudai (Subcatchment A)
And labis Study Area 43
5.1 Existing Guidelines on Development Involving Rivers 50
6.1 Recommended Buffer Widths 65
6.2 Recommended Buffer Zone Widths According to Functions 70
6.3 Potential Incentives for Buffer Zone Implementation 78
6.4 The Advantages and Disadvantages of Runoff Plot and
Catchment Technique for Assessing Buffer Zone Performance 85
6.5 Proposed Sites for Buffer Zone Study 86
6.6 Riparian Vegetation Based on Photographic Records in
Sungai Langat, Sungai Labu and Sungai Ulu Beranang 88

Desk Study on River Buffer Zone in Malaysia: Policy, By Laws and Incentives Final Report


Figure No. Title Page

2.1 Examples of River Buffer Zone 5

2.2 River Corridor, River Reserve and River as
Depicted In Pembangunan Melibatkan Sungai
dan Rizab Sungai 6
2.3 Current Problem With River Buffer Zones in Malaysia 10
3.1 A Two-Zone Buffer System 16
3.2 The Three-Zone Buffer System as Implemented at
Chesapeake Bay 18
3.3 Three-Zone Buffer System 19
3.4 Three-Zone Buffer Design for Urban Rivers as
Recommended by The Center for Watershed Protection 20
3.5 Variable Buffer Width Adjusted from 30m to 53m to
Account for Effects of Slope and Impervious Surface 21
3.6 Criteria for Determining the Width of Riparian Buffers
and Their Relationship to Landowner Objectives 31
3.7 Each Zone of the Riparian Forest Buffer Provides
Various Functions and Values to the Landowner 32
4.1 The Study Area 35
4.2 Study Area 1 Subcatchment A of Sg Skudai 36
4.3 The Landuse Composition of Subcatchment A of Sg Skudai 36
4.4 The Stream Network of Subcatchment A of Sg Skudai 37
4.5 The Stream Network of Labis Study Sites 37
4.6 Catchment and Subcatchment Boundaries of Sg Skudai 38
4.7 Subcatchment A of Sg Skudai 9with Stream Order) 39
4.8 Stream Order 1 with a 30-m Buffer 39
4.9 The Composite Map of 10-m Buffered Zones and Landuse 40
4.10 Slope of Catchment A of Sg Skudai 42
4.11 Slope of Labis Study Area 43
4.12(a) Effect on Landuse Along Stream Order 1 44
4.12(b) Effect on Landuse Along Stream Order 2 44

Desk Study on River Buffer Zone in Malaysia: Policy, By Laws and Incentives Final Report

4.12(c) Effect on Landuse Along Stream Order 3 45

4.12(d) Effect on Landuse Along Stream Order 4 45
4.12(e) Effect on Landuse Along Stream Order 5 46
4.12(f) Effect on landuse Along All Stream Orders 46
5.1 Components of Vegetated Buffer Strips (Vbs) 52
6.1 Applying a Flexible-Width Buffer 67
6.2 Illustrations of Several Conditions of Buffer Zones 73
6.3 Typical Set Up of Runoff Plot 83
6.4 Experimental Design for Assessing Buffer
Zone Performance 84
6.5 Catchment Approach for Assessing Effectiveness of
Buffer Zone 85
6.6 Locations for Possible Buffer Strip Study 86

Desk Study on River Buffer Zone in Malaysia: Policy, By Laws and Incentives Final Report



This report is a final report of the work completed on a desk study of policies, functions
and design of river buffer zones. Chapter 1 of the report covers the background of the
study while Chapter 2 discusses the definition and functions of river buffer zones. The
design of a buffer zone is described in Chapter 3 before Chapter 4 discusses on the
land-area implications of implementing various sizes of buffer zones for a variety of
stream orders. Existing policies, guidelines, regulations and incentives as they are
currently practised both locally and abroad are investigated in Chapter 5. The final
chapter of the report (Chapter 6) offers recommendations on policies, buffer design, and
further studies of buffer zones on the basis of the findings of this desk study.


The overall objectives of the study are to carry out a desk study on policies, regulation
and researches related to river buffer zone based on case studies carried out locally
and abroad. This study will also suggest on the environmental management strategies
of buffer zone.


This desk study involves review and assessment of secondary information from various
reports and research articles on the practice of river buffer zones concerning the

Desk Study on River Buffer Zone in Malaysia: Policy, By Laws and Incentives Final Report

following: (i) to study the functions of buffer zones along river conveyance from
upstream to downstream (river mouth) on matters that can contribute to the stability of
river bank (water quantity) and the aspects of sustainable environment to the river
(water quality); (ii) review of previous studies by any government agencies, private
sectors or non-governmental organizations regarding buffer zone area locally or
internationally; (iii) method to determine the optimum size of buffer zone from literature
review; (iv) analysis using GIS to determine buffer zone area in relation to stream order;
(v) implication of the policy to the forestry, agriculture and urban development
surrounding the buffer zone area from upstream to downstream of the river; and (vi)
recommend a suitable buffer zone policy direction and regulations for Malaysian rivers.


This desk study uses solely secondary data or information obtained from reports,
technical papers/articles and through discussion and communication with agencies and
individuals. The aim is to provide a comprehensive review on the concept of buffer zone
for the purpose of protection and conservation of resources along river corridor. No
collection of primary data is carried out.


The report contains the findings from the desk study that are later used to formulate a
series of recommendations concerning the implementation of buffer zones in Malaysia.
The findings are as follows:

Functions of Buffer Zones

Depending on the objectives, a river buffer zone can be designed to perform all or any
of the following functions: