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Study to assess effects of climate change on Buffalo shoreline: ‘We are not immune here’

Gusty southwest winds can create a seiche on Lake Erie, pushing water toward Buffalo. Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News file photo

Posted on April 5, 2022

The Lake Erie shoreline in Buffalo has been battered in recent years by more frequently occurring seiches – the wind-driven waves that cause drastic differences in water levels.

Damages in the millions of dollars have occurred at Times Beach Nature Preserve, Buffalo Harbor State Park, Erie Basin Marina and Ralph C. Wilson Centennial Park. What’s more, because of how Erie Lake and the Buffalo River interact, flooding and sewer issues have resulted in the First Ward, Seneca Babcock and Hopkins-Tifft neighborhoods.

With that in mind, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper will conduct a study along 16 miles of city shoreline, made possible by a $750,000 grant from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation.

The study will focus on Lake Erie as well as the Niagara River, Black Rock Canal and lower portions of the Buffalo River and Scajaquada Creek.

“We know that climate change is real and that we are not immune to the effects here in the Great Lakes region,” said Jill Jedlicka, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper’s executive director. “We are already experiencing the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events that result in more damaging lake seiches, coastal, and inland flooding.”

Results from the study will help identify needs for better infrastructure to slow progression of these destructive forces, she said. They will also help communities fortify themselves against the effects of climate change.

“This study is a necessary step in that process,” she said.

The study is expected to take 12 to 16 months to complete. It will be conducted in partnership with the City of Buffalo, Ramboll Engineering Group and community stakeholders including block clubs and neighborhood associations.

The study will evaluate the impacts of climate-driven wind, waves, precipitation and ice on land at the shore of the lake, rivers and creek. It will construct a computer model of flooding potential along the city’s waterfront, and produce vulnerability profiles for neighborhoods subject to coastal forces.

Based on the vulnerability profiles, up to six projects will be identified with stakeholders and developed to a preliminary level of design.

Public engagement will be part of the process.

JJ Tighe, who leads the Wilson Foundation’s Parks & Trails Initiative, has seen the impact of seiches and other extreme weather conditions on the shoreline of Ralph C. Wilson Centennial Park, formerly LaSalle Park, which the foundation is remaking with the city and others.

Seiches occur in combination with changing atmospheric conditions such as strong winds, changes to air pressure, dropping temperatures and higher lake levels. Jedlicka said changes in weather occurring in Buffalo are being seen throughout the Great Lakes.

Tighe said the study will help understand how to better fortify the shoreline to combat the effects of weather-driven flooding.

Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper is “the ideal organization” to lead the effort, Tighe said.

“Ultimately, it is in the shared interest of the entire community to study these concerns and begin to tackle these issues directly, identify areas of vulnerability, and evaluate solutions,” Tighe said.

“This resiliency study is the first step of a course towards a stronger, more more sustainable and ecologically viable shoreline for thee City of Buffalo,” Mayor Byron Brown said in a statement.


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