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Buffalo River Restoration Project

logos of EPA, DEC and Army Corps of Engineersseal of the City of Buffalobuffalo niagara waterkeeper logo

View the Habitat Restoration/Dredging Updates webpage.

Transforming the Buffalo River into a Recreational, Economic, and Community Resource

View of Buffalo River looking north toward the Norfolk Southern rail bridge
View of Buffalo River looking north toward the Norfolk Southern rail bridge
Photo credit: K. Lachut

The Buffalo River Restoration Partnership began and completed majority of the environmental dredging of the Buffalo River in 2014. Contaminated sediment close to the banks of the river will be removed, limited areas capped, and habitat restored.

The Buffalo River Restoration Partnership, a unique public-private-non-profit partnership, including U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper® and Honeywell moved forward with plans to address a number of environmental problems affecting the Buffalo River. The environmental challenges included contaminated river sediments, poor water quality, a lack of safe public access, and insufficient fish and wildlife habitat. This partnership brought together diverse resources and expertise and has developed plans for a comprehensive cleanup and transformation of the river into a beneficial environmental, economic, and community resource.

The plans include two major environmental dredging projects, as well as habitat restoration projects. A map of the Buffalo River (PDF, 1.26 MB) shows the location of the dredging and restoration areas. The first project, begun by the USACE in August 2011, involves dredging contaminated sediments in the federal navigation channel using funds from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) (see link to USACE Buffalo Harbor Dredging Information in right column). This channel was created nearly a century ago to accommodate shipping and alleviate flooding of residential properties upstream. USACE is responsible for maintaining the channel.

Grain elevators line many parts of the Buffalo River.
Grain elevators line the sides of the Buffalo River. Photo by USACE

The second project, implemented with the oversight of the USEPA, commenced in fall 2013 and completed in fall 2014. The project addressed contaminated river sediments outside of the navigation channel. The remediation would occur mostly along the shoreline of the river in targeted areas of a 6.2 mile stretch of the lower Buffalo River and 1.4 mile stretch of the City Ship Canal, which is designated as an Area of Concern (AOC). An AOC is a formal federal designation given to 43 degraded water bodies within the Great Lakes Basin. This project is being planned and funded through the Great Lakes Legacy Act (GLLA). The GLLA project will follow the USACE dredging of the federal navigation channel after completion of the remedial design. A Protection of Waters Permit under Article 15, Title 5 of the New York State Environmental Conservation Law is necessary for the implementation of this sediment remediation and habitat restoration project. The application is now considered complete and a Notice of Complete Application has been prepared for the project, as described in the June 2013 Fact Sheet (PDF, 82 KB).

The Cleanup: Mostly Complete!

This project follows the USACE's 2011-2012 navigation dredging (shown above), which removed 550,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the middle of the river.
This project follows the USACE's 2011-2012 navigation dredging
(shown above), which removed 550,000 cubic yards of
contaminated sediment from the middle of the river. Photo by USACE

The cleanup falls within the lower six miles of the Buffalo River and the City Ship Canal. The project was designed to minimize impact on river users. Approximately 488,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment will be removed using a clam-shell bucket. This is equivalent to about 33,000 truck loads. Monitoring will help make sure the water flowing downstream meets water quality standards. The material will be placed into barges and disposed of at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Confined Disposal Facility (CDF) about three miles south of the river, on the shore of Lake Erie. The CDF was specifically designed to contain dredged sediment. A small portion of the most contaminated materials will go to a government-approved landfill.

Environmental "silt" curtains will be used at a few locations, for short periods of time, to help prevent sediments from being dispersed. By law, dredging cannot impede navigation, so silt curtains will be moved if necessary. In order to enhance the remedy, capping material will be placed in a few areas. Capping isolates contaminated sediments from the ecosystem and also provides clean sediment habitat for small organisms that fish eat.

Community Benefits:

  • Improved health of Buffalo River ecosystem
  • Cleaner and revitalized river
  • Enhanced habitat for fish and wildlife
  • Improved navigation and access
  • Opportunities for revitalization and redevelopment of Buffalo's waterfront and river corridor
  • Improved recreational opportunities

Buffalo River Restoration

Buffalo River at sunset. Photo by Jill Jedlicka
Buffalo River at sunset. Photo by Jill Jedlicka

The Buffalo River flows through Buffalo, New York, and into Lake Erie. The river played an important role in the development on the city of Buffalo. However, many decades of industrial, residential, municipal and other uses led to the accumulation of contaminants in river sediment. The Buffalo River Restoration Project is sponsored under the Great Lakes Legacy Act program by USEPA and on-federal sponsors including, Honeywell and Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.

Habitat Restoration Enhances Ecology of the Buffalo River

Following the cleanup, the Restoration Partners will implement habitat restoration projects. These projects will help restore select areas of the river. Restoration projects include new and enhanced vegetation and installation of structures that will provide habitat for fish and other wildlife. This restoration will commence in spring/summer of 2015, extending through 2015 with monitoring.

Coordination with River Users

The Restoration Partners are working with river users to minimize disturbances. Please notify us if you are a river user, either commercial or recreational, so that we can coordinate schedules when possible. We also have speakers, a project mailing list and this website for continual updates.

Minimal Community Disruption

River users will continue to use the river. In any dredging project, the community may experience short-term inconveniences. For example, there will be large equipment in the river, such as dredge platforms, cranes and barges, operating 24 hours a day/six days a week. While river users can continue to use the river, it is essential that a safe distance from the dredging is maintained. Barges and all equipment will be lit at night.

Where to Find More Information?

This website has been developed to serve as a central resource for information about the Buffalo River.

A number of other websites with good information about the Buffalo River are also available. Links to these sites can be found in the right column of this page.

Receive Site Fact Sheets by Email

Elevated rail bridge crossing the Buffalo River near Smith Street
Elevated rail bridge crossing the Buffalo River
near Smith Street. Photo by Jill Jedlicka

Have site information sent right to your email inbox. Sign up to receive contaminated sites emails by county for information about this site and other sites in the state's remedial programs. When you reach the topics page, scroll down to the "Environmental Site Permitting and Cleanup Information by County" section, and choose the counties of interest.

You will periodically receive site-related information/announcements for all contaminated sites in the county(ies) you select.

Who to Contact?

Jill Spisiak-Jedlicka
Executive Director & Waterkeeper
Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper
721 Main Street
Buffalo, NY 14203

DEC Region 9 Office
270 Michigan Avenue
Buffalo, NY 14203

Mary Beth Giancarlo
Environmental Scientist
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Great Lakes National Program Office
77 W. Jackson Blvd. (G-17J)
Chicago, IL 60604