That the Buffalo River will one day again be swimmable and its fish edible is nothing short of miraculous.
One of the steps toward that miracle was the recent announcement of the next phase of the Buffalo River rehabilitation. This two-year effort involves about 20 acres at seven sites along the river, and is part of the bigger program to rescue our resource after years of damage from industrial pollution and neglect.
The $5 million restoration project will be funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative through a partnership of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Great Lakes Commission and Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.
Earlier work dredged pollutants from the river bottom. Now comes the arduous work of ridding the shoreline of invasive species and planting native trees and other flora to make way for, as reported in The News, “ecological diversity, habitat for wildlife and public access to the water.”
Eco-designers want to anchor the shoreline with a living infrastructure that they irresistibly call “soil burritos.”
The project involves habitat restoration along the banks of the lower river at RiverBend, River Fest Park, the Blue Tower Turning Basin, Old Bailey Woods, the Ohio Street boat launch, Katherine Street Peninsula and Buffalo Color Peninsula, formerly one of Buffalo’s most toxic sites.
For decades this was considered a dead river, and with good reason. It has taken dedicated, concerted effort to make the significant strides that are bringing it back to life. As Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, a founding member of Friends of the Buffalo River, which evolved into the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, said, “The quiet waterfront renaissance, if you will, is occurring right here on the river.”
With so much deserved attention being paid to the revitalization of Buffalo’s Inner and Outer Harbors, the importance of the river to the ecosystem and economy cannot be lost in the conversation.
The invaluable cleanup will be one more success story for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which has completed more than 2,000 projects. Six former “areas of concern” have been delisted, and 10 others, including the Buffalo River, will be fully cleaned up and restored over the next five years.
For too long, a trip up the Buffalo River offered a window into the city’s damaging industrial past. Soon it will be part of the growing blue economy that depends on clean water.