Upstate Spotlight: Greenville County Riparian Buffers — Council Vote Update

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By Cindy Clark

UPDATE. 12/3/2023:

The County Council will hold its third and final reading and hold a vote on the proposed ordinance outlined below on Tuesday, January 2nd. Please call your Council rep and/or show up to the meeting to help protect our waterways!


[Originally posted on 11/29/2023]

Currently in Greenville County, 50-ft riparian buffers are only required in un-zoned areas of the county.

On November 7th, after months in committee and several workshops, County Council took its first of two votes to require county-wide riparian buffers along all classes of streams and jurisdictional waters of the United States. The Ordinance (as presented) stipulated 100-ft riparian buffers throughout the county.

However, despite hearing fact-based arguments from Upstate Forever, SC Environmental Law Project (SCELP), Save our Saluda, and Friends of the Reedy River on the effectiveness and many benefits of 100-ft riparian buffers, County Council voted 9-3 to approve, in part, the following amendments:

  • 50-ft riparian buffers throughout the county with 100-ft buffers only where water bodies drain to fifty (50) or more acres
  • A two-year sunset provision

As the Council did not vote to allow amendments at third and final reading, no further changes to the Ordinance with be forthcoming. The Council will hold a public hearing and take its final vote within the next few weeks.


Fewer and more effective septic systems are complimentary with meaningfully sized riparian buffers to improve and protect water quality, which is why the Ordinance requiring 100-ft riparian buffers also included a requirement for 1.5-acre minimum lots in un-zoned areas for subdivisions with ten or more lots served by septic.

The county’s Comprehensive Plan (Plan Greenville County) has a stated goal to “protect the most valuable and vulnerable resources in Greenville County” with an explicit objective to “require stream buffers sufficient to protect water quality, streambank integrity, and wildlife habitat.”

The County also has an objective to reduce new septic systems by 59% through 2040 but acknowledges there are currently no requirements to address the functionality and effectiveness of existing systems. The County recognizes that septic systems are used extensively throughout the county and create long-term health, safety and cost concerns.

The prevalent use of septic in Greenville County has finally drawn attention which is the primary reason the Ordinance was written to address larger riparian buffers and septic lots in tandem.

The proposed Ordinance was met with strong opposition during Appearances for Current Agenda Items at the November 7th Council meeting.  Arguments against larger riparian buffers and septic lots included:

  • increased carbon footprint
  • increased cost of construction
  • unintended consequences (not defined)
  • de facto zoning of un-zoned areas
  • dangerous one-size-fits-all approach (no elaboration)
  • excessive governmental control

Throughout the discussion, several members of Council stressed that the proposed amendments were temporary and only a stop-gap measure to expedite sewer and zoning in southern Greenville County. To appease the opposition, Council also approved a two-year sunset provision of the Ordinance with the option to re-adopt.

The motion to approve the Ordinance as amended passed by a vote of 9 to 3.

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