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Planned Restoration of Scajaquada Creek will Reverse Decades of Degradations

Posted on June 7, 2016

More evidence that things have changed in Buffalo: Not only are important goals being accomplished instead of talked to death and then forgotten, but even ancient problems are being addressed. That’s what is happening as plans are laid to clean up the long-polluted Scajaquada Creek.

The work is as welcome as it is necessary. With the sometimes grudging help of Congress, the Great Lakes and its tributaries are undergoing a renaissance. The work is designed to acknowledge and counter generations of disrespect, in which the planet’s greatest inland sea was treated as a dumping ground for waste. That included everything from industrial chemicals to fertilizer runoff to, more recently, the microbeads found in many facial cleansers.

It’s a grand effort that is playing out across the lakes and their watersheds. In Western New York, that work has included the restoration of the Buffalo River, which is expected to become safe for swimming in as few as three years and for fishing in eight. Now, at last, Scajaquada Creek is getting its turn.

The waterway, which flows through the urban loveliness of Forest Lawn, is – in a word – revolting. Like the lakes and the Buffalo River, it has been the victim of bad decisions, chemical dumping, untreated sewage and other degradations. The challenge is large, but it is being approached in a systematic way that, over time, will go a long way to restoring it.

The initial $2 million project is expected to begin as early as this fall. It includes several interrelated aspects, including restoring habitat and a natural flood plain that was filled in about 60 years ago in an effort to control pollution. Instead, it wiped out an ecosystem that actually helped to clean pollution from waters.

To fix that error, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will construct a flood plain wetland area and restore what was once known as Swan Lake. It will be designed to take on water with emergent plant species tolerant of both wet and dry conditions. All will have a role in cleaning the creek’s waters.

“That’s going to help filter some of the disgustingness out,” said Mike Voorhees, a corps biologist. “It’s going to create biomass that can help suck up some of the nutrients, and generally, it’s going to help improve the water quality in the area.”

As part of that work, the corps will also dredge some of the most contaminated sediments from the creek, just east of the Delaware Avenue S-curves.

The other area of the creek marked for construction is just downstream of Serenity Falls in a channelized creek expanse near an area called “mausoleum row.”

Natural groundwater is fed into the creek there, helping to dilute the more concentrated pollution released into the waters by sewage overflows farther upstream. Engineers plan to create a natural, vegetative flood plain to the creek’s edge.

“We don’t have a ton of cover along our waterway. We don’t have a ton of vegetation,” said Bill Frederick, a hydrogeologist with the Corps of Engineers. “We don’t have a connection between the creek and its flood plain. Those are all the things we want to put back.”

That will provide greater access to the water for habitat and a variety of creatures, he added.

Those upstream sewage overflows are a remaining concern, but plans to fix them are taking shape, as well. Late last year, the state and the Town of Cheektowaga agreed to a plan that will attack the problem of illegal tie-ins to the sewage system. That is the main source of the sewage that fouls the creek and, while it will take time to address it, the commitment has been made.

The creek, which used to empty into Delaware Park’s Hoyt Lake, was redirected almost a century ago, and now bypasses it. It would be a great development if this waterway can someday resume its natural course, feeding the lake, which beautifies the park that declares Buffalo’s enduring love of nature.

Source: The Buffalo News

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