On a boat cruise organized recently by the Friends of the Buffalo Niagara Rivers (FBNR) jointly with other organizations to celebrate its fifteenth anniversary, members gave accounts, together with facts and figures, about the efforts that the organization has made in the past 15 years. They also talked about the improvement in water quality. But the color and odor of the water itself managed to blot these out. As the river flows through several of Buffalo’s poorest neighborhoods, including the Old First Ward, the Valley, Seneca-Babcock, and the South Park-Bailey communities, it presents a continuing health risk to the populace. It is obvious that authorities need to do much more to implement and bring fruit to the efforts of FBNR and other such organizations and to see that an India-like situation is not created here as well.

Michel Holland of the Office of Strategic Planning for the City of Buffalo, who is currently working on the city's comprehensive master plan, while acknowledging the vast contribution that FBNR has made in cleaning up the Buffalo waterfronts that carry the contamination legacy of the area's post-industrial history, agreed that there was a need to “redefine ourselves.”

“FBNR has provided invaluable service in advocating and prioritizing the issues and has paved the road for Buffalo waterfronts’ future,” said Mr. Holland.

The main objective of FBNR is to promote, preserve, and protect the natural and historical environments of the Buffalo and Niagara rivers for the benefit of the local community. This includes restoration of the ecological health of the Buffalo and Niagara river systems; celebration of the cultural and historic fabric of the area; improvements to public access along the rivers to the surrounding communities and citizens of the region; encouragement of community awareness, "ownership" and stewardship of the rivers; and support of sustainable development of the region's economy.

During the cruise, Frank Di Mascio of the Sewer Authority pointed out the primary and secondary treatment plants, which are jointly expected to treat 600 million gallons of sewage per day in two years. Vast investments have been made, and the system is being updated. “FBNR has been able to influence sewer authority decisions significantly,” said Lynn Di Mascio, who has retired from the Sewer Authority.

The Buffalo River remains severely damaged largely due to loss of habitat and continued pollution of the river channel from upper watershed non-point sources, combined sewer overflow (CSO) systems and historic contaminants contained in river sediments and riverfront brownfields. Several projects have been undertaken to improve the condition of the water bodies. The City of Buffalo is currently working on the waterfront component of the city’s master plan through three projects: The Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP), the Waterfront Corridor Initiative (WCI), and the City Waterfront Setback Study. The LWRP comprises an inventory of existing conditions, policy statements about the use and management of the city’s waterfront resources, a land-use plan, list of projects and implementation strategy. The Waterfront Corridor Initiative is an implementation project designed to translate the LWRP and preceding 20 years of waterfront corridor planning activities into action now. FBNR was recently awarded a city CDBG (community development block grant) to study the creation of a building setback along the city’s waterfront. FBNR will make recommendations as to appropriate setback depths based upon waterbody drainage areas, ecological needs, and the impact on existing property owners. by Vidisha Barua

Little children gleefully diving into the contaminated dark waters of the Buffalo and Niagara rivers reminds one of similar scenes in India, especially in the capital, New Delhi. There, the efforts of the authorities and a plethora of cases in the Supreme Court to clean up the bodies of water have made no difference at all. Environmentalists have been struggling for decades to increase awareness and awaken the authorities to this burning issue of water pollution. Politicians in India make a public show of their concern by launching programs to clean up the rivers just before the elections.