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Congress must reject efforts to slash funding for critical clean water projects

With the national focus on clean water, it is difficult to understand why federal budget proposals in the House and Senate would threaten water and sewer infrastructure projects. However inconceivable, that is exactly what is happening. It’s a terrible idea that could affect the planned restoration of Scajaquada Creek, along with other efforts to clean up polluted waterways in Western New York and around the country.

The threat is real to an area like this, which relies so heavily on its waterways to attract businesses and tourists. That work will be undermined without the continued commitment to restoring our two Great Lakes and their tributaries to the pristine conditions that should be the expectation of any citizen in this nation of abundance.

Yet, both houses of Congress are considering proposals that would cut $414 million from the national Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which pays for projects across the country. Cutting it would reduce by 30 percent what New York’s senior senator said is an already underfunded program.

While in Buffalo this week, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., railed against the proposed cut, pointing out the devastating effect it could have on four years of intensive effort by the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper in partnership with Forest Lawn and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The work involved preliminary field studies and conceptual restoration designs for Scajaquada Creek and enabled the City of Buffalo to apply for and secure an initial $1.8 million in federal Green Infrastructure Grant funds through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program. It was part of the Scajaquada Creek Restoration Project, according to Schumer’s office.

The goal is to upgrade the sewer system and lessen overflows that have occurred in the Forest Lawn area of the creek. Schumer said an additional $90 million is needed in just the Scajaquada Creek district, and $400 million will be needed for the entire sewer improvement project to be completed over the next 18 years.

Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper Executive Director Jill S. Jedlicka, in an article in The News, said the state estimates about $31 billion in necessary water and sewer infrastructure improvements across New York, and $2 billion in Erie and Niagara counties.

There are certain unacceptable consequences in a technological society. Among them are sewage overflows that can occur in heavy rain, allowing untreated human waste to bypass over-capacity treatment systems and flow into area waterways.

The 15-mile long Scajaquada Creek, with a watershed covering 29 square miles and within which about 90,000 people live, requires attention to the extent that it was recently added to the Niagara River’s federally designated “area of concern.” The designation makes it eligible for additional sources of funding.

The recent waterfront and downtown resurgence has focused attention on the area’s water resources and its potential as an even greater economic engine. It is important to the city’s resurgence that its No. 1 resource be made clean and usable.

But all of this is at risk with the threat of tens of millions of dollars in funding cuts for water and sewer infrastructure projects. Federal appropriators must heed Schumer’s call and reject this devastating cut and “restore full funding to this critical program.”