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Another Voice: Blue economy is already taking shape in WNY

By Jill Jedlicka

Western New York’s blue economy is not always obvious, especially since traditional economic analyses rarely capture its impact.

The Buffalo News’ recent series called attention to our region’s growing water-based economy. The expressed interest from private sector leaders to engage in a dialogue that the nonprofit, academic, philanthropic and public sectors initiated years ago is welcome. What is missing is strategic priorities and collaboration between all sectors.

Sector leaders must join forces to shift how we measure and define economic success, particularly when it comes to the protection and use of our Great Lakes drinking water. If we are striving for a sustainable economic model, our water cannot be viewed only as a commodity.

Our region is a national leader in restoration, remediation and revitalization of abused and neglected waterways that in turn create community wealth and catalyze investment.

The numbers are staggering: the value of Lake Erie’s recreational fishery is estimated at $1.4 billion annually; recreational boating and paddling brings in nearly $1 billion annually; the Niagara River Greenway is a guaranteed 50-year investment of $450 million; the Buffalo Sewer Authority is committed to $92 million in green storm water infrastructure; UB’s RENEW Center will lead research on the nexus of water and energy; SUNY Buffalo State boasts a Great Lakes Research Center; Canalside and the Ohio Street corridor are successful in part because of the commitment to a restored river and public access; and the list goes on.

Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper’s Rust to Blue Initiative helped raise regional and national consciousness about the value of clean, accessible water. This is supported by a 25-year track record of successful, community-driven efforts.

Early adopters and advocates for the blue economy include Doug Swift and Earl Ketry of RiverWorks, Rep. Brian Higgins and County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who incorporated the blue economy in his 2013 State of the County address.

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster is an active member of the Great Lakes Cities Initiative, and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown’s administration developed the Green Code and prioritized green infrastructure and public access. Philanthropic organizations like the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo are currently seeking ways to direct alternative sources of capital into the region that will generate economic, environmental and social returns. Academic institutions conduct research and development to improve the understanding and health of our water.

With all of these leaders and groups working toward a common goal, sustaining a blue economy for our entire community is achievable.

Jill Jedlicka is the executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.