Mirror Lake, one of those hidden Buffalo jewels, looks like a swamp and smells worse.
No one called the work of environmental restoration pretty, although the results should be.
Crews are pumping Forest Lawn’s well-known lake free of its spring-fed waters - and will continue to do so until April - allowing them to scrape the detritus of decaying plant matter, animal feces and sediment. When finished, workers expect to remove 7,500 cubic yards of sediment – enough to fill more than two Olympic-sized swimming pools – from Mirror Lake and dispose it in a landfill.
Restoring Mirror Lake is the first step of the Buffalo Sewer Authority’s $2.8 million project to restore Scajaquada Creek and the waters that feed it.
The project will also include scrubbing the bottom of nearby Scajaquada Creek.
“This is a project that is going to contribute to the quality of life of the residents of Buffalo, the ecological health of our drinking water supply and the strength of our economy,” said Jill Jedlicka, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, a project partner.
The Forest Lawn Heritage Foundation will spend more than $896,000 to make Mirror Lake cleaner and more inviting at the same time crews work on restoring Scajaquada Creek.
“It’s a really good partnership to get this done at this point in time,” said Julie Barrett O’Neill, the green program director at the sewer authority. “They function like they’re one place and, for the animals that live there, they’re one place. We want to make sure the habitat they’re using is good in both locations.”
The work will be done in the winter so the wildlife can return this spring to a much cleaner place.
After the lake refills, the water will be a bit deeper.
Cooler and cleaner water should inhibit algal blooms.
And, the odor around the lake should improve.
Only a narrow cemetery road and a short bank of land on either side separate Mirror Lake and Scajaquada Creek.
When work finishes on the lake, dredging operations can begin in the creek, officials said.
Sediment from the creek – contaminated with organic and chemical wastes – will be taken to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s Confined Disposal Facility on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor.
Scajaquada Creek enters Forest Lawn near Main Street and meanders through its grounds to the Delaware Avenue S-curves.
The sewer authority will use a $1.8 million from the state Environmental Facilities Corporation’s Green Innovations Grant program for the project.
“The Scajaquada Creek restoration project will be progressed from upstream to downstream from Forest Lawn all the way to the Buffalo History Museum,” said O.J. McFoy, general manager of the Buffalo Sewer Authority. “Each segment of the creek has a different set of concerns.”
The construction work should finish this year.
Forest Lawn officials see it as welcome progress.
“While it’s not going to be done overnight, it will be done,” Charles F. Kreiner, Jr., the foundation chairman, said of the Scajaquada’s cleanup. “The fact that this thing is happening today, it’s not going backwards, and it’s not going to stop.”
The project is designed to resolve odor, flooding, stagnant water, algae and sediment problems in the creek caused by sewage overflows during times when sewage systems are overwhelmed.
Besides cleansing the creekbed of its sordid past, work is also designed to enhance wetland areas, restore creek banks and improve aesthetics.
The Buffalo Sewer Authority has an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce wastewater overflows into the creek over the next 10 years.
“This work has been carefully designed to address the problem of the odors,” said Mayor Byron W. Brown. “The garbage, debris and related odors will be gone.”
The project will include:
• Dredging polluted sediment from the creek to improve the flow of the stream and lower water temperatures.
• Restoring the banks of the Scajaquada by removing invasive plants and planting native vegetation to stabilize soil along the bank, shade the area and allow for wildlife habitats to flourish.
• Improving trash collection from the creek before it gets to Forest Lawn.
• Enhancing wetland areas just east of the Delaware Avenue S-curves to expand the floodplain and allow natural water filtration to improve water quality.
By this time next year, the dredging will be done and plantings and channel improvements will be in place, McFoy said.
Several other projects are also underway to improve the water quality in Scajaquada Creek, including programs farther upstream in places like Lancaster and Cheektowaga, as part of an overall plan to restore the creek’s vitality.
“What we will see is a nice thriving community along the banks of the creek and you will smell nothing. That is our hope,” McFoy said. “We know there still are concerns upstream, and we are addressing those as well.”