- Buffalo, NY (Erie County)
- Lake Erie
U.S. EPA RAP Liaison:
Mary Beth Giancarlo
Enhanced navigational dredging was completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the end of 2012 with funding from Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Funds from the Great Lakes Legacy Act are expected to support the second phase of the dredging, which is likely to be completed in 2014. These efforts will greatly reduce to human health and ecological risks posed by sediment contamination.
About the Buffalo River
The Buffalo River Area of Concern is located in the City of Buffalo in western New York State. The river flows from the east and discharges into Lake Erie near the head of the Niagara River. The Buffalo River AOC “impact area” extends from the mouth of the Buffalo River to the farthest point upstream at which the backwater condition exists during Lake Erie’s highest monthly average lake level. The impact area is 6.2 miles in length. The AOC also includes the entire 1.4-mile stretch of the city ship canal, located adjacent to the river. The AOC is characterized by historically heavy industrial development in the midst of a large municipality. There are three major streams in the watershed that create the AOC “source area”: Cayuga Creek, Buffalo Creek and Cazenovia Creek. Land use in the tributary watersheds primarily consists of residential communities, farmland, wooded areas and parks interspersed with commercial land use. The total drainage area for the Buffalo River watershed is approximately 440 square miles.
Industrial development continues to have a significant presence in the lower riparian area, although some parts of the riverbank can be seen in various stages of abandonment. Industrial users, chemical companies, coke and steelmaking operations and oil refineries all contributed the contamination found in the Buffalo River. Currently, the major sources of pollution in the AOC are contaminated bottom sediments and nonpoint source pollution throughout the watershed. There are currently 33 combined sewer overflow outfalls within the watershed that discharge into the Buffalo River, as well as three connections to the Buffalo sewer system from outside sewer districts that also overflow into the river during storm events. There are 45 inactive hazardous waste sites within the AOC and contaminants of concern include PCBs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), metals and industrial organics. Water quality concerns include dissolved oxygen levels, turbidity and bacterial contamination. Potential riparian and aquatic habitat areas are limited due to contamination, development and an altered shoreline. Invasive plant and animal species pose additional threats to the diversity and quality of habitat.
Remedial Action Plan
In 1989, a combined stage I and stage II remedial action plan was prepared for the Buffalo River Area of Concern. Following the development of the RAP, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, in its role as RAP Coordinator, tracked progress within the Buffalo River AOC through six status reports between 1989 and 2002. In October 2003, the EPA Great Lakes National Program Office selected Friends of the Buffalo Niagara Rivers to coordinate the implementation of the Buffalo River RAP. Effective July 2005, the Friends changed names to Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper. Riverkeeper has since taken over the responsibility of preparing status reports.
With the assistance of the remedial advisory committee, NYSDEC and other governmental and non-governmental organizations, Riverkeeper has begun to make significant progress towards delisting. Since taking over coordination of the RAP, Riverkeeper has re-engaged the committee, conducted a full re-assessment of all 14 beneficial uses, developed delisting criteria/restoration targets for the impairments, tracked Buffalo River research and ongoing projects, identified data gaps and needed projects related to BUI assessment and prepared the 2008 status report for the Buffalo River RAP. Remedial activity efforts have been focused in six major areas: stream water quality monitoring, river bottom sediments, inactive hazardous waste sites, municipal and industrial wastewater treatment facilities, combined sewer overflows and fish and wildlife habitat. The stage II addendum of the 2011 RAP highlights the upcoming projects in the area of concern. There will be extensive navigational dredging to accelerate the delisting of related BUIs. It has also been recognized that green infrastructure techniques will need to be implemented to combat the aesthetic degradation of the river. Ecology & Environment, a local environmental management company, will provide some funding and much insight towards restoring the AOC. However, more funding will be required to complete the majority of these projects.
Beneficial Use Impairments
In 1989, the Buffalo River RAP determined five of the 14 beneficial uses to be impaired with an additional four BUIs added to the list later on. In the 23 years since the original RAP was written, there has been a significant amount of research and restoration within the Buffalo River AOC. However, this work has not yet translated into the delisting of any impairments. This does not necessarily reflect lack of progress in improving the river’s health, but rather that progress has not yet reached a level that would allow an impairment to be delisted or considered restored.
Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper’s first management goal as Buffalo River RAP coordinator was the creation of clear delisting criteria and restoration targets for the nine recognized BUIs. Riverkeeper developed the criteria after a re-evaluation of the status of the BUIs by the RAC through three technical advisory groups: sediments, water quality and habitat & environs. Local, regional and statewide experts from relevant scientific fields also contributed to development of the criteria.
- Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption
- Tainting of fish and wildlife flavor
- Degradation of fish and wildlife populations
- Fish tumors or other deformities
- Bird or animal deformities or reproduction problems
- Degradation of benthos
- Restriction on dredging activities
- Degradation of aesthetics
- Loss of fish and wildlife habitat
- 2011: Stage II RAP completed with addenda. The document will be used to focus funding efforts from both government and non-government organizations on projects requiring the most immediate attention.
- 2008: RAP status report completed. The report outlined the results of several studies and the adoption of delisting criteria.
- 2005: Assessment of potential aquatic habitat restoration sites in the Buffalo River AOC completed. Results indicated an increase in size and population of largemouth bass and a low-density benthic community.
- 2005: Comprehensive sediment sampling conducted by the EPA and NYSDEC.
- 2005: Buffalo River Environmental Dredging Feasibility Study agreement signed between U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Riverkeeper. Work continues today under the Great Lakes Legacy Act and detailed report on the project was released in October 2011.
- 2003: Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper (formerly Friends of the Buffalo Niagara Rivers) identified as Buffalo River RAP coordinator.
- 1999: RAP status report was completed that detailed major accomplishments, including cleanups at several hazardous waste sites.
- 1995: Buffalo River RAP status report completed that noted many assessments of fish and wildlife and what the corresponding next steps would be.
- 1989: Buffalo River Remedial Action Plan published.
You will need the free Adobe Reader to view some of the files on this page. See EPA's PDF page to learn more.
- Feasibility Study for the Buffalo River, New York. Environ, Mactec, Limnotec, October 2011
- RAP Status Report. Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, 2008
- Buffalo and Niagara Rivers Habitat Assessment and Conservation Framework. Wooster, Margaret and Matthies, Lisa, November 2008
- Understanding sediment dynamics using geological and engineering approaches: A case study of the Buffalo River area of concern, Buffalo, New York. Singer, et al, 2008
- 2008 Buffalo River AOC Report Card, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, June 2005
- 2005 RAP Status Report. Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, October 2005
- Sediment Modeling for the Buffalo River Watershed (PDF) (59 pp, 1.8 MB) Inamdar 2004
- 2002 RAP Status Report. NYSDEC, July 2002
- 1995 RAP Status Report. NYSDEC, June 1995
- 1991 RAP Annual Report. NYSDEC, June 1991
- 1989 RAP (Stage I and Stage II). NYSDEC, March 1989
In October 2003, the EPA Great Lakes National Program Office selected Friends of the Buffalo Niagara Rivers to coordinate the implementation of the Buffalo River RAP. Effective July 2005, the Friends changed names to Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.Riverkeeper offers several opportunities to the public to get involved. They were recently seeking new members for the habitat and water quality sub-groups. The organization also sponsors free tours of the River between May and October. The Riverwatch program allows concerned citizens to use the latest technology to monitor water quality. Shoreline cleanups are held twice a year at over 40 locations in Western New York that aid in maintaining the aesthetics of the watershed.
What is a beneficial use impairment?
Impairment of beneficial use is a change in the chemical, physical, or biological integrity of the Great Lakes system sufficient to cause any of the following 14 use impairments:
- restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption
- tainted fish and wildlife flavor
- loss of fish or wildlife habitat
- degraded fish and wildlife populations
- fish tumors or other deformities
- bird or animal deformities or reproductive problems
- degradation of benthic macroinvertebrate communities
- restrictions on dredging activities
- eutrophication or undesirable algae
- restrictions on drinking water consumption or taste and odor problems
- beach closings
- degradation of aesthetics
- added costs to agriculture and industry
- degradation of phytoplankton and zooplankton
What is a remedial action plan?
The remedial action plan, or RAP, is a process to clean up the waterfront, rivers, habitats and waters. The United States and Canada, as part of the Great Lake Water Quality Agreement, committed to cooperate with State and Provincial Governments to ensure that RAPs are developed and implemented for all Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes basin. Forty-three AOCs have been identified: 26 located entirely within the United States; 12 located entirely within Canada; and five that are shared by both countries. RAPs address impairments to any one of 14 beneficial uses (e.g., restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption, dredging activities, or drinking water consumption) associated with these areas.
What is a delisting target?
In order to move towards formal delisting, RAPs need delisting targets to gauge their success:
- Delisting targets should be premised on local goals and related environmental objectives for the watershed; they should be consistent with the applicable federal and state regulations, objectives, guidelines, standards and policies, when available, and the principles and objectives embodied in Annex 2 and supporting parts of the GLWQA.
- Delisting targets should have measurable indicators.
- Delisting targets should be developed and periodically reviewed on a site specific basis (allowing for flexibility in addressing local conditions) by the respective state agencies, in consultation with local stakeholder groups. This is particularly important if new information becomes available.