If Our Water Could Talk Part V: The Future

May 16, 2014

After decades of missteps, Buffalo is finally experiencing a renaissance along the waterfront. All this week, WBFO has explored life along the Buffalo River. In our final installment of If Our Water Could Talk, WBFO's Jay Moran and Eileen Buckley explore how the city waterfront is now the catalyst inspiring future economic development being called 'Rust to Blue.'

Buffalo's New Waterfront - Rust to Blue

“I would say within three years, we will have something dramatically different then we have now," said Robert Gioia, chairman of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation.  The Corporation has been a major force in creating Buffalo’s new 'blue' economy.

"We’ll see most of the dust and the cranes gone and, and we’ll start to see continual activity of tweaking, if you will," said Gioia.  "I don’t think our work will ever be done because I think the needs and the demands and the interests in the community are going to change as well."

Four major construction projects - totally nearly $300-million our occurring within just a few blocks of one another along the waterfront.   

"Right now you’ve got a war zone of activity, if you will.  Once that’s done, and once we start gradually increasing public access to the outer harbor and accessibility, it will be a continually updating, reevaluating and adjusting to the needs of the community to create that excitement," said Gioia.

Changes to Waste Water - Green Infrastructure

Rust to Blue is finally becoming a reality as the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper continues water cleanup all against the back drop of new waterfront development.

“Water issues are integrated into all the decisions that are being made," said Jill Jedlicka, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.  Jedlicka  notes it is important to keep an eye on these major changes  so we do not allow new economic growth pollute our waterways again.

"At its simplest form,  you know, we, we are in an incredible moment in time for our region. We have this responsibility, as a steward, of 20% of the world’s fresh water that flows through, past our front door every day, we have to be responsible for that," noted Jedlicka.

"But the next, critical challenge ahead is with the city’s wastewater treatment, dealing with a 100-year-old, combined system that mixes sanitary flow merging with surface run off.

"In a normally functioning system -- that's fine -- the sanitary waste goes to the wastewater treatment plant, and then the storm water runoff gets, either filtered or, or put back into the, into the local waterways or the groundwater. But our system, in Western New York, was designed as a combined system, so whenever there is a significant rainfall, and meaning, significant meaning a quarter inch or greater, of rainfall or heavy snow melt, it inundates the system of pipes, not the treatment plant, the pipes," said Jedlicka.

It's a significant challenge. Many older cities have the same problem. Places like Pittsburgh Philadelphia and Chicago. Thousands of miles of pipes transport waste to treatment facilities.
Jedlicka said this will be a "step-by-step" piece of River cleanup.

"It’s a 100-year-old challenge that the current sewer authority inherited, and we have, actually, a state-of-the-art sewage treatment plant.  I has the capacity.  It just, it’s a timing issue of when the water gets to the system," said Jedlicka.

Many municipalities are working with state and federal governments, looking at long term plans to replace pipes or create large underground storage to sustain systems.  In other words green infrastructure.

"Traditionally, gray infrastructure is concrete, culverts, pipes, that type of thing.  Green infrastructure is utilizing, nature’s natural systems, to manage your storm water overflow," said Jedlicka.

And many stakeholders are working with Buffalo Sewer Authority to create better green infrastructure to make it all work in the city."

"And with green infrastructure, it could be something as simply as preserving a 10-acre wetland that can store storm water and it can let it infiltrate back into the ground before it hits the system, and it won’t inundate the system.  So, it’s the old adage of an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure," said Jedlicka.

Enjoying Water

Buffalo River clean up and new economic development increasing water recreation. There’s now kayaking, canoeing and more boating than ever.  In late 1890’s to 1920’s rowing was a major, competitive water sport originally tied to the grain mills, with 12 to 13-rowing club.  But rowing changed with the decline of our  waterfront economy fewer ships and closing grain mills. However,  but in recent years clean up from the Army Corps of Engineers of the river bed area has changed that for new rowing teams.

"We currently have, between adults learning to row, masters, youth, different high schools we have down here, we have approximately 300 people rowing here," said Mark Kostrziewski, President and chairman of the Buffalo Scholastic Rowing Association.

"When we opened, I think we had four boats and 30-people, and now I think we have 60 rowing shells -- and 300 people," said Kostrziewski.  "I anticipate, over the next two years, that will go to 4 to 500-people."

Water quality improvement could also  making the water swimmable.  The return of the recreation use of the water is invigorating for many citizens. It's renewed meaning to their water activity. Shelly Brown of Buffalo likes to fish and kayak.

"So anytime I get to go out and fish and not catching seaweed or any other stuff -- garbage or whatever -- it's nice to see," said Brown. "Actually seeing down clear."

Future RiverBend

As the water meets the shoreline of our waters, major brownfield clean up is underway, restoring prime waterfront land.

"Cleaning it up, re-purposing it for a brand new campus," said Martin Doster, Regional Remediation Engineer with the State Department of Environmental Conservation.

One of the biggest economic boosts will be the development of RiverBend.  The state is investing $225-million to help create a campus center of clean-energy  on the a former brownfield site --where the former Republic Steel and Donner Hanna Coke once stood in south Buffalo along the city's waterfront.

"Where you are going to have high end manufacturing, but also opportunity to live, work and play in that area," said Doster. "Canal systems going up and down the river."                                                        

Two California-based companies will set up at RiverBend and the project is expected to create 850-new jobs.  But keeping all this new economy from contaminating our waters will also be key to preserving the precious resource through out the Buffalo Niagara region.

If our water could talk -- what would it say?

We asked some of the stakeholder and citizens -- If our water could talk -- what would it say? 

"I think the River would be telling us right now 'keep up the good work', we could be some much more productive." 

"I think it would say thank you to a whole host of people. Thank you for caring and thank you for improving me, I think that's what the water would say."

"I guess it would give a big thank you especially now that I see the kayakers and boaters here all the time using it a lot more."

And now we want to hear from you.  If you have a smart phone,  record a 30-second answer to our question - “If our water could talk - what would it say?  Email it to news@wbfo.org. Please keep your response short and will try to use it on the air in a future story about If Our Water Could Talk.