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A new name for Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper -- and a call to action

For decades, their work took them to streams, creeks and lakes.

So, for the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, the time came for a new name that better reflects what they do and where they do it.

The environmental group will now be known as Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper.

“Our new name will reflect the scope of our work,” said Jill Spisiak Jedlicka, Waterkeeper’s executive director, during a meeting Wednesday with The Buffalo News.

The Western New York group -- in addition to unveiling its new name and logo at Canalside Thursday -- will also reveal several initiatives:

• A regional “Waterkeeper Weekend” every third week in May, held in partnership with D’Youville College;
• An annual “State of Our Waters” report calling for a road map to improve the health of the region’s water;
• A community-wide call to action for people, businesses and organizations to get more involved.

“We’re upping our game, and we’re hoping the community will up its game, too,” Jedlicka said. “When we say community it’s not just individuals. It’s the business community. It’s institutions. It’s agencies. And, private business.”

It’s part of the reason Waterkeeper is partnering with D’Youville, a West Side institution with a new strategic agenda addressing environmental health issues.

“We’re very cognizant of our importance of place – we’re blocks from the Niagara River,” said D’Youville President Lorrie Clemo. “This partnership we have with Waterkeeper is going to allow us to offer (students) a really living laboratory curriculum.”

Waterkeeper’s scorecard of area water health gave good marks for clean drinking water and economic growth and investment, fair grades for ecological habitat and poor grades for toxic contamination and water and sewer infrastructure -- which received the poorest grade.

Waterkeeper intends to press forward with cleanup and restoration efforts throughout its 1,400 square mile watershed -- including at priority areas like Scajaquada Creek and Cayuga Creek -- but it identified wastewater infrastructure as its “number one action agenda item,” according to Jedlicka.

“The three key things moving forward that are going to make or break this region’s recovery are drinking water, wastewater and stormwater management,” Jedlicka said. “If we don’t get a handle on that, we are going to hit a wall as far as our recovery.”

The solution won’t be found in any single entity or organization, Waterkeeper officials said. It will take partnerships, collaboration and action.

With one-quarter of its staff dedicated to citizen engagement, Waterkeeper officials said its organizational strategy is to generate that involvement.

“It’s not just about calling attention, placing blame or pointing fingers,” Jedlicka said. “It’s our role also being at the table with solutions.”

A big part of the solution is tapping into a $2.5 billion pool of funding that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Legislature allocated earlier this year for clean water programs.

“We know what the problems are and we know what the solutions are. We just need to coordinate regionally attacking those solutions and not be competing for those same resources,” Jedlicka said.

“Water is not just an environmental issue," she said, "it’s quality of life.”

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