Great Lakes restoration success stories

News and analysis by Dan Telvock, Investigative Post's environmental reporter

Of the four federally funded Great Lakes restoration projects in Western New York, none is as big as the cleanup of the Buffalo River.

The nonprofit group Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition created a map with details of each of the projects across the Great Lakes.

Roughly $44 million will be spent on removing decades worth of historic industrial pollution in the Buffalo River, making it one of the largest river cleanups in the country. The bottom of the river is polluted with PCBs, heavy metals and other toxic chemicals. In total, 1 million cubic yards of toxic sediment will be dredged out of a 6.2 mile section of the river.

More dredging of the Buffalo River started in October.

More dredging of the Buffalo River started in October.

Part of the project includes restoring fish and wildlife habitats, scheduled for completion in 2015.

This restoration project is a public-private partnership between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Honeywell, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, New York Department of Environmental Conservation, the City of Buffalo and Erie County.

In Lewiston, $600,000 went toward research of lake trout and sturgeon in the Niagara River.

Sea lampreys, an invasive species, are threatening these fish. Researchers have been trying to find ways to boost the populations of lake trout and sturgeon since the sea lamprey invaded the Great Lakes in the 1960s.

This project led to a discovery that lake trout are spawning in the Niagara River and now researchers are looking at other sections of the river where the fish can spawn as a way to boost populations.

Similar research on the lake sturgeon is ongoing in the Niagara River.

Another $530,000 has been used for pharmaceutical collection programs in New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

Pharmaceuticals, such as antidepressants and antibiotics, are turning up in most U.S. waterways that have been tested. Many of the chemicals are not removed at wastewater treatment plants and can harm fish and wildlife. Numerous studies have already found these chemicals in Great Lakes fish.

In West Seneca, $65,000 was used to restore the 14 acres of the Oxbow Wetland in the Buffalo Creek.

More than 12,000-square-feet of two invasive species—Japanese knotweed and Common reed—have been removed from the wetland.

The Buffalo-Niagara Riverkeeper succeeded in getting a private donor to agree to put half of the wetland into a conservation easement that would protect it from development. The organization is still working to bring the remaining 16 acres into the conservation easement.