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Buffalo River Area of Concern

The Buffalo River Area of Concern (AOC) is located in the City of Buffalo, Erie County. The river flows from the east and discharges into Lake Erie near the head of the Niagara River. There are two major components of the Buffalo River AOC: the "impact area" and the Buffalo River Watershed "source area."

The "impact area" extends from the mouth of the Buffalo River to the farthest point upstream at which the backwater condition exists during Lake Erie's highest monthly average lake level. The impact area is 6.2 miles in length. The AOC also includes the entire 1.4-mile stretch of the city ship canal, located adjacent to the river.

There are three major streams in the watershed that create the AOC "source area": Cayuga Creek, Buffalo Creek and Cazenovia Creek. The total drainage area for the Buffalo River watershed is approximately 440 square miles.

Restoring the Buffalo River Area of Concern

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement outlines the process for restoring all Great Lakes Areas of Concern. The process involves developing a Remedial Action Plan (RAP) to address Beneficial Use Impairments (BUI) in each AOC. A Remedial Advisory Committee (RAC) was established for each AOC to assist the restoration process.

Buffalo River Remedial Action Plan

All Areas of Concern have a Remedial Action Plan that identifies specific problems and outlines the work needed to restore, or delist, the AOC impact area. The current AOC coordinator is the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, which takes the lead in developing and implementing the Buffalo River AOC Remedial Action Plan.

The Remedial Action Plan is developed in three stages:

Buffalo River AOC Identified Beneficial Use Impairment Status
Beneficial Use Impairment Indicator 2014 Status
1. Restrictions on Fish & Wildlife Consumption Impaired
2. Tainting of Fish & Wildlife Flavor Impaired
3. Degradation of Fish & Wildlife Populations Impaired
4. Fish Tumors and Other Deformities Impaired
5. Bird or Animal Deformities or Reproductive Problems Impaired
6. Degradation of Benthos Impaired
7. Restrictions on Dredging Impaired
8. Eutrophication or Undesirable Algae Not Impaired
9. Restrictions on Drinking Water Not Applicable
10. Beach Closings Not Applicable
11. Degradation of Aesthetics Impaired
12. Added Cost to Agriculture Not Impaired
13. Degradation of Phytoplankton or Zooplankton Populations Not Impaired
14. Loss of Fish & Wildlife Habitat Impaired

Buffalo River Cleanup Milestones

  • 2014: Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper submitted a letter to NYSDEC outlining the remaining management actions in order to address each of the impaired BUIs to ultimately delist the AOC. NYSDEC approved that list of actions and submitted it to the EPA Great Lakes National Program Office.
  • 2013: Great Lakes Legacy Act dredging and capping project is underway in the AOC. The project will remove high concentrations of contaminants of concern, mainly PAHs, PCBs, lead and mercury from the river. Five aquatic habitat restoration projects will commence once the dredging is finished. The Legacy Act project is expected to be complete in 2015. Following Buffalo River cleanup efforts, monitoring will determine if work will improve the local ecosystem to a point where the specific identified BUIs can be called restored.
  • 2012: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed dredging of contaminated sediment from the federal navigation channel in the river and City Ship Canal under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and their own base funding authorities.
  • 2011: The Buffalo River Ecological Restoration Master Plan was published in July 2011 by Ecology & Environment, Inc. for Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper. The plan proposed restoration and remediation projects to take place within the AOC.
  • 2011: Stage II RAP completed with addenda. The document will be used to focus funding efforts from both government and non-government organizations on projects requiring the most immediate attention.
  • 2011: Interim Buffalo River AOC Strategic Plan for BUI Delisting plan was published in March 2011. This report recommends a series of actions, projects, and programs to improve relevant conditions in the Buffalo River AOC and document restoration and protection of beneficial uses in support of the eventual delisting or re-designation of the AOC.
  • 2008: RAP status report completed. The report outlined the results of several studies and the adoption of delisting criteria.
  • 2005: Assessment of potential aquatic habitat restoration sites in the Buffalo River AOC completed. Results indicated an increase in size and population of largemouth bass and a low-density benthic community.
  • 2005: Comprehensive sediment sampling conducted by the EPA and NYSDEC.
  • 2005: Buffalo River Environmental Dredging Feasibility Study agreement signed between U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Riverkeeper. Work continues today under the Great Lakes Legacy Act and detailed report on the project was released in October 2011.
  • 2003: Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper (formerly Friends of the Buffalo Niagara Rivers) identified as Buffalo River RAP coordinator.
  • 1999: RAP status report was completed that detailed major accomplishments, including cleanups at several hazardous waste sites.
  • 1995: Buffalo River RAP status report completed that noted many assessments of fish and wildlife and what the corresponding next steps would be.
  • 1989: Buffalo River RAP published.

Important Links

Other websites with important information about the Buffalo River AOC:

  • Buffalo River Restoration Project

  • USEPA Buffalo River AOC webpage (see Links Leaving DEC's Website in the right hand column)

  • Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper - Buffalo River AOC webpage (see Links Leaving DEC's Website in the right hand column)

  • Buffalo River Ecological Restoration Master Plan (see Links Leaving DEC's Website in the right hand column)

Buffalo River AOC RAP Coordinator

Katherine Winkler
AOC Project Manager
721 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14203
(716) 852-7483 x15
kwinkler@bnriverkeeper.org