Federal budget proposals in the House and Senate threaten water and sewer infrastructure projects that would help clean up polluted waterways, including the planned restoration of Scajaquada Creek, Sen. Charles E. Schumer said Monday in Buffalo.
Both houses of Congress are considering proposals that would cut $414 million from the national Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which provides money for local projects across the country, the New York Democrat said. That type of “dramatic” cut would reduce by 30 percent what he described as an already underfunded program, he said, vowing to work to restore the funding.
Efforts to restore the water quality of Scajaquada Creek – which collects untreated sewage as it runs through Lancaster, Cheektowaga and Buffalo – received $1.8 million through the federal program last year, Schumer’s office said.
The state estimates that there are about $31 billion in needed water and sewer infrastructure improvements across New York, $2 billion in Erie and Niagara counties alone, said Jill S. Jedlicka, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper. “The problems are not going away on their own and they are only going to get more expensive unless we address them now,” Jedlicka said.
The problems include municipal sewage overflows, which in occurrences of heavy rain allow untreated human waste to bypass over-capacity treatment systems and flow into area waterways.
Scajaquada Creek is 15 miles long and its watershed covers 29 square miles, within which about 90,000 people live.
It was recently added to the Niagara River’s federally designated “area of concern,” which makes it eligible for additional sources of funding.
Cleaning up the creek would make it a valuable asset to Western New Yorkers, the state’s senior senator said during a news conference adjacent to the creek in Delaware Park. “It winds through so many of our communities, suburban and urban, so it’s important we take good care of it. And it has the potential to be beautiful,” Schumer said.
Getting the planned restoration work done depends on having federal funding, and “the only thing missing is the dollars,” he said. Restoring Scajaquada Creek would cost about $90 million over 18 years, he added.
“Now, per year, that doesn’t sound like that much from the federal government, but when you count that this is only one of the sewage-upgrade projects and the fact that there’ll be a whopping cut if we don’t do anything to Clean Water Act money, it makes it more difficult,” Schumer said. “If federal funds are cut, it could greatly harm Buffalo’s opportunity, Western New York’s opportunity to clean up the creek.”
Jedlicka called the issue one of the most important facing the country.
It has the potential to undermine waterfront reinvestment, she said, adding that the region won’t reach its full potential “if we still have human waste flowing by our waters every time it rains. It does not make sense in a modern society.”
“Scajaquada Creek is a prime example of everything that can be done wrong to a creek system, but at the same time, it can show how a community can rally around its waterways,” Jedlicka said.
Schumer said he hopes to find bipartisan support for restoring the funds by the time the issue is addressed late this spring.