To Jill Jedlicka, there are a lot of winners in the Buffalo Niagara region’s waterfront resurgence.
Bald eagles that nest in treetops. Buffalo River kayakers. Future creekbank habitats of the spring-fed Scajaquada Creek.
On Tuesday, the organization that Jedlicka leads became a global winner.
Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper was awarded the prestigious Thiess International Riverprize on Tuesday at the 19th International Riversymposium in New Delhi, India. The Riverprize comes with a $150,000 award. The award, from the Australian-based International RiverFoundation, recognizes the best efforts in restoring environmental health to rivers of the world.
“The recognition is such a wonderful thing – to be globally recognized for the positive effect of our work,” said Jedlicka, the executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.
When Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper representatives Joel Bernosky and Susan Kornacki return from India, they’ll come back with a hefty piece of hardware – the prestigious Thiess International Riverprize.
“This award is shared with our many partners and the entire community, and is a testament to the decades of civic engagement in Western New York that has catalyzed regional waterfront revitalization,” Jedlicka said. “It’s not just an environmentalist issue ... it’s connecting clean water to a healthy Great Lakes economy.”
Last year, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper took home the North American Riverprize – an award that earned the organization a trip to the White House.
Only one organization wins each year, but the award is not just about one year’s work.
“The International RiverFoundation really looked at our full body of work over multiple decades,” Jedlicka said.
Jedlicka said the prize money isn’t earmarked for any one project but will likely be stretched over myriad water restoration projects the organization is pursuing, including the revitalization of Scajaquada and Cayuga creeks, the Niagara River Greenway and other Great Lakes issues.
“It’s a challenge and its a struggle every year to advance all of these water restoration projects we have,” Jedlicka said.
Riverkeeper competed for the prize with two other finalists – Spain’s Segura River Basin Authority and Murcia Regional Water Department, and the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.
Rep. Brian Higgins has worked closely with Riverkeeper for many years, and he’s not surprised by the award.
“They’re young and enthusiastic visionaries,” Higgins said. “They have a passion for what it is they do, and an understanding for what it is they do, beyond the work itself.”
Higgins called the award “a great tribute to the leadership of Jill Jedlicka and everybody at Riverkeeper.”
While many other groups rely on government officials to take the lead, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper leverages grant money to organize civic leaders, state and federal government, private industry and the public to further a common goal – water restoration, he said.
“It’s generational, and it’s lasting,” Higgins said of Riverkeeper’s work. “They’ve got ‘street cred,’ or ‘river cred,’ you might say.”