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Editorial: Toward cleaner water

A report showing that five of the 11 healthiest watersheds in New York State outside of the Adirondacks exist in or around Allegany State Park in Cattaraugus County is worth toasting with a clear glass.

Then putting down the glass and examining ways to make sure the water feeding into lakes and streams in Allegany State Park remains clean – and gets even cleaner.

Those five subwatersheds are Quaker Run, Willow Creek, Red House Brook, Wolf Run and the Tunungwant Creek Outlet, according to the data.

The results came as no surprise to the director of science for New York’s Natural Heritage Program. The watersheds are healthier and in better shape, as he noted, “because of the way (the state) protected the land there.”

Moreover, as indicated in an article by News reporter T.J. Pignataro, the “relatively unmolested, natural state of the watersheds near Allegany State Park should stay that way” as most of the park’s acreage was designated as a preservation area under the 2010 master plan.

The report by state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Natural Heritage Program shades broad areas of Cattaraugus County in highly desirable, ecologically healthy hues of blue.

The state’s map shows a few more healthy colored blue spots for ecologically healthy areas across Western New York outside of southern Cattaraugus County in what is otherwise sea of orange and red spots of environmental stress. The better-off include the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge at Oak Orchard Creek, which scored the highest in ecological health outside of the park area. A few others scored in the top 20 percent of the state’s subwatersheds for that metric.

State environmental officials want conservation groups and clean-water advocates to use the report’s assessment maps to identify streams where more trees and plants should exist and to protect the spots that are healthy.

The state’s Trees for Tributaries program, started about 10 years ago in the Hudson River area, promotes plantings along creeks and streams to improve water quality, wildlife habitat and flood protection. The program has been expanded over the years to include upstate areas and officials said it could be introduced in Western New York as soon as this year.

The report delivered disappointing news for the Buffalo River and Scajaquada Creek, naming them among the state’s most imperiled watersheds. The Two Mile Creek subwatershed, that includes Scajaquada Creek and extends into Tonawanda, is 11th worst on the list.

Buffalo Waterkeeper volunteers did not need the report’s recent dismal assessment to tell them that, despite internationally-acclaimed efforts which have resulted in apartments, restaurants and recreation springing up along the once-dead Buffalo River, that much more needs to be done.

The group’s advocacy drew attention and resources in cleaning up the Buffalo River. The federal government spent more than $50 million this decade removing lead, mercury, PCBs and other toxins from the river’s shoreline.

It will take more resources, continued grass-roots effort and bipartisan support cutting across political line to undo a century of damage.

When it is finally finished, and we can all raise a glass drawn from any tributary, then this earth’s most precious, life-sustaining resource will have been protected for generations. That may be expecting a lot, but it’s the right goal.

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