The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) has brought tens of millions of dollars in environmental research, clean-up and rehabilitation across the Buffalo Niagara region since 2010.
The program jump-started what the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper fondly calls our "blue economy."
It's helped return the ancient lake sturgeon to area waterways. The bald eagle to its skies. And economic development to the shoreline.
Quietly funded by President Obama's pen to the tune of nearly a half-billion federal dollars in late 2009, the program's genesis was born from a 2004 executive order by then-President George W. Bush that declared the Great Lakes "a national treasure."
The federal initiative has revitalized Buffalo, numerous other spots around Western New York and in other places such as Erie, Pa.; Cleveland; and Milwaukee, through collaborative partnerships involving local and state agencies, environmental organizations and private industry.
Some say the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative may well be the most successful bipartisan legislation to come out of Washington, D.C., this century.
Rep. Brian Higgins said divisions in Congress often fall along ideological or geographical lines. And this one is no exception.
But the Great Lakes have brought Republicans and Democrats together in a unique regional coalition, from Minnesota to New York.
"That gives us leverage that you're not going to have in Congress and good bipartisan work," Higgins said.
Here's a look at 10 big environmental accomplishments in the Buffalo Niagara region so far this decade that we can attribute to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
1. The Buffalo River's 21st-century resurrection.
Toxins from a century of its industrial past were removed from the Buffalo River during a six-mile cleanup. Now, work to restore habitats for birds, bees and Buffalo residents is underway.
- A decade and $75 million later, Buffalo River habitat restoration is complete
- Bringing nature back to the Buffalo River (interactive map)
- Habitat restoration to begin at seven sites along Buffalo River
- Buffalo's other waterfront renaissance
- After reaching 'milestone,' Buffalo River cleanup enters next phase
- Great Lakes cleanup effort looks to the future
2. The Emerald Shiner's keystone role in the Niagara River ecosystem is preserved.
The health of the tiny Emerald Shiner is vital to other fish and bird species. Providing more habitat and better water quality to boost its vitality will play a key role in restoration efforts of other species in the Niagara River corridor.
3. Ancient lake sturgeon, the "dinosaur fish," returns to area waterways.
The lake sturgeon swam in ancient waters at the same time T-Rex was king of the Earth. Overfishing and pollution ruined the sturgeon's numbers in the 20th century, but evidence shows they're on their way back in the Niagara River and the Great Lakes.
- An ambitious project begins to shed light on a mysterious Lake Erie fish
- Sturgeon: creatures of the night in the Niagara River
- Scientists turn to high-tech tracking to learn more about Lake Erie sturgeon
- Sturgeon battles back to repopulate Lake Erie, lower Niagara River
4. Stella Niagara's nature on the banks of the lower Niagara River is preserved.
Maintaining green space provides habitat and a place to breathe for area residents and critters along the lower Niagara River. At Stella, there will be no development on 29 acres of riverfront property thanks to efforts of the Western New York Land Conservancy.
- Pope inspires clergy to join environmental movement
- Nature preserve planned on 29 acres purchased from Stella Niagara nuns
- Stella Niagara plan calls for network of nature paths, improved habitats
5. Beach forecasting goes high-tech, enhancing safety for swimmers.
The beach is the place to be in the summertime, but when it rains, beaches are often closed because local sewage treatment plants overflow nearby. Fixing those problems is the long-term solution but studying when and why to close beaches is an interim step to protect public health while maximizing recreational enjoyment.
- Lake Erie's beaches have been safer than the water this summer
- Work starts to end sewage runoff near Woodlawn Beach
- UB study helps explain why area beaches stay closed for days or more
6. Times Beach emerges as a bountiful habitat for wildlife and pollinators.
Times Beach was once the place where hazardous materials went from dredging the contaminated Buffalo River's navigational channel. Now, that site was capped and rehabilitated. It's used as a place to help migrating birds, lure and promote pollinators and a quiet natural respite from the busy environs of Canalside just across the Buffalo River.
7. The Scoby Dam is being lowered to reunite fish species in Cattaraugus Creek.
The 38-foot-high Scoby Dam near Springville has blocked tens of thousands of steelhead trout from swimming further up Cattaraugus Creek to spawn in the upper part of the creek. A plan by the U.S. Corps of Engineers through GLRI would lower the dam to allow fish passage between the upper and lower parts of the creek, while at the same time capturing invasive sea lamprey. Corps engineers are preparing final designs for the project now.
- Plan selected to lower Scoby Dam and boost fishing in Cattaraugus Creek
- Plan calls for lowering Scoby Dam to give fish more stream in which to thrive
- Army Corps of Engineers proposes to lower Scoby Dam
8. Scajaquada Creek's days as an open sewer are numbered.
Remediating Scajaquada Creek won't be done overnight, and a single magic bullet won't solve its problems. But Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper has the waterway in its sights and is working with local, state and federal agencies, along with Forest Lawn and the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy to ensure the remediation happens as soon as possible. Some of the key initiatives include green infrastructure projects in coordination with the Buffalo Sewer Authority to reduce overflows from the city into the creek, improvements to the sewer system upstream in Cheektowaga, streambed and channel restoration work in Forest Lawn and a new wetland habitat just northeast of the Delaware Avenue S-Curves.
- Scajaquada Creek included among state's most unhealthy watersheds
- Scajaquada Creek cleanup effort starts in Forest Lawn
- Source of Scajaquada Creek pollution will be tackled with state grant
- Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper presses for Scajaquada Creek cleanup
9. Wetland project near Unity Island provides new habitat for Niagara River fish.
Restoring what was lost on the northern tip of Unity Island (formerly Squaw Island) is the goal of this U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project. A deep pond at the site, which has proved to be an attractive nuisance for years, would be built up using clean sediment from the dredging of a revitalized Buffalo River to build a shallow wetland habitat for aquatic species and reconnect the area to the nearby Niagara River.
- Unity Island pond is now open to Niagara River's fish
- Once too toxic, Buffalo River silt to be used to restore Unity Island
- Army Corps project will turn pond near Squaw Island into vibrant wetlands
10. Lake Ontario's phosphorus load to hedge against algal blooms is gauged.
Federal agencies are collaborating to go high-tech in the battle against harmful algal blooms in Lake Ontario. Gauges and sonar will be used to calculate the amount of phosphorus traveling downstream from the Niagara River into Lake Ontario to assist scientists in making future recommendations about appropriate nutrient targets in the waterways.