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Buffalo River

Contact Information

U.S. EPA RAP Liaison:
Fred Luckey
Niagara Frontier Program Manager
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 2
290 Broadway
New York, NY 10007-1866

State RAP Contacts:
Robert Townsend
(retownse@gw.dec.state.ny.us) 518-457-9603
NYSDEC, Division of Water, RAP Coordinator
Bureau of Water Assessment and Management
625 Broadway
Albany, NY 12233-3508

Jerry Palumbo
Region 9 Water Manager
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
270 Michigan Avenue
Buffalo, NY 14203-2999

Buffalo River Remedial Advisory Committee:
David Gianturco
Remedial Advisory Committee
456 Brantwood Dr.
Amherst, NY 14226

Local Coordinators:
Jill Spisiak Jedlicka
Buffalo River RAP Coordinator
Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper
617 Main Street, M108
Buffalo, NY 14202

Julie Barrett O'Neill (info@BNRiverkeeper.org)
Executive Director
Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper
617 Main Street, M108
Buffalo, NY 14203

Frequent Acronyms

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Buffalo River AoC Boundary Map

Buffalo River AOC Boundary Map (PDF) (1pg, 543K)

Buffalo River shape file (ZIP) (13K)


The Buffalo River Area of Concern (AOC) is located in the City of Buffalo in Western New York State. The river flows from the east and discharges into Lake ErieExit disclaimer near the head of the Niagara River. The Buffalo River Area of Concern “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 (10 km) in length. The AOC also includes the entire 1.4-mile (2.3 km) stretch of the City Ship Canal, located adjacent to the river. The AOC impact area is characterized by historically heavy industrial development in the midst of a large municipality. There are three major streams in the watershed that create the AOC “source area”: Cayuga Creek, Buffalo Creek and Cazenovia Creek. Land use in the tributary watersheds primarily consists of residential communities, farmland, wooded areas and parks interspersed with commercial land use. The total drainage area for the Buffalo River watershed is approximately 440 square miles.

Today, industrial development continues to be an important use of the lower river although some riverbank areas can be seen in various stages of abandonment. Presently, the major sources of contamination in the AOC are contaminated bottom sediments and non-point source pollution throughout the watershed. There are currently 33 CSO outfalls within the watershed that discharge into the Buffalo River and three connections to the Buffalo sewer system from outside sewer districts that also overflow into the river during storm events. There are 45 inactive hazardous waste sites within the AOC and contaminants of concern include PCBs, PAHs, metals, and industrial organics. Water quality concerns include dissolved oxygen levels, turbidity, and bacterial contamination. Potential habitat areas (riparian and aquatic) are limited due to contamination, development and an altered shoreline. Invasive plant and animal species threaten diversity and quality of habitat. Fish consumption advisories exist for the AOC and recent research indicates an average of 34% DELT anomalies in fish (ranging from a low of 14% for pumpkinseed to an extremely high 87% for brown bullhead). Benthic organisms’ deformity rates range from 20-25%.

In 1989, a combined Stage 1 and Stage 2 Remedial Action Plan (RAP) was prepared for the Buffalo River Area of Concern. (EPA specifies a three-stage RAP structure; Stage 1- Problem Identification and Planning, Stage 2- Goals, Options and Recommended Actions, and Stage 3- Restoration of Beneficial Uses.) Following the development of the Remedial Action Plan, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), in its role as RAP Coordinator, tracked progress within the Buffalo River AOC through six Status Reports (1989-2002).

In October 2003, the U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) selected Friends of the Buffalo Niagara Rivers to coordinate the implementation of the Buffalo River Remedial Action Plan. Effective July 2005, the Friends changed names to Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.

With the assistance of the Remedial Advisory Committee (RAC), NYSDEC and other governmental and non- governmental organizations, Riverkeeper has begun to make significant progress towards delisting. Since taking over coordination of the RAP, Riverkeeper has re-engaged the Remedial Advisory Committee (RAC), conducted a full re-assessment of all 14 beneficial uses, developed delisting criteria/restoration targets for five of the six known Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs), tracked Buffalo River research and ongoing projects, identified data gaps and needed projects related to BUI assessment, and prepared the 2005 Buffalo River RAP Status Report.

Remedial activity efforts have been focused in six major areas: stream water quality monitoring, river bottom sediments, inactive hazardous waste sites, municipal and industrial wastewater treatment facilities, combined sewer overflows, and fish and wildlife habitat. RAP strategies and remedial activities are updated in the most current Buffalo River RAP Status Report dated October 2005. Current remedial activities include the evaluation of contaminated sediment remedial options through a feasibility study conducted by US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in partnership with NYSDEC and Riverkeeper. A 2-year assessment project of potential aquatic habitat restoration sites within the AOC was completed in September 2005. Five habitat improvement projects have been developed by Erie County in cooperation with the City of Buffalo, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), USACE, and NYSDEC with funding provided through U.S. EPA. The Buffalo Sewer Authority completed a draft Combined Sewer Overflow Long Term Control Plan in early 2005. Remedial Investigations, Feasibility Studies or Interim Remedial Measures have been completed at 42 of the 45 inactive hazardous waste sites. The remaining three are undergoing restoration planning or entered voluntary clean-up agreements.

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Beneficial Use Impairments

  1. Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption
  2. Fish tumors or other deformities
  3. Degradation of aesthetics
  4. Degradation of benthos
  5. Restriction on dredging activities
  6. Loss of fish and wildlife habitat

Five other beneficial uses need further assessment to determine their status:

  1. Eutrophication or undesirable algae (further assessment needed)
  2. Tainting of fish and wildlife flavor (further assessment needed)
  3. Degradation of fish and wildlife populations (further assessment needed)
  4. Bird or animal deformities or reproduction problems (further assessment needed)
  5. Degradation of phytoplankton and zooplankton populations (further assessment needed)

In 1989, the Buffalo River RAP determined five of the fourteen Beneficial Uses to be “impaired”, with another three listed as “likely impaired.” In the fifteen years since the original RAP was written, there has been a significant amount of research and restoration within the Buffalo River AOC. However, this work has not yet translated into the delisting of any impairments. In fact, after a complete review of all 14 Beneficial Uses in 2004, one more impairment has been added to the list- “degradation of aesthetics”. This does not necessarily reflect lack of progress in improving the river’s health, but rather that progress has not reached a level that would allow an impairment to be delisted or considered restored.

The Buffalo River and its sediments have been impaired by past industrial and municipal discharges and disposal of waste. The known causes of beneficial use impairments include chemical contamination and physical disturbances to the river bottom and shoreline, as well as bacterial loading and other water quality parameters (i.e. dissolved oxygen, turbidity, etc.) Contamination in the AOC comes from the sediments, inactive hazardous waste sites, combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and other point and nonpoint sources of pollution in the watershed.

The 2005 Buffalo River Status Report now identifies six Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs) based on the fourteen possible International Joint Commission Exit disclaimer(IJC) beneficial uses. Three beneficial uses are listed as “likely impaired” and two are “unknown”. These “undetermined” five uses will be fully assessed by the RAC and Riverkeeper during the 2006-08 fiscal years.

Fishing and survival of aquatic life within the AOC have been impaired by PCBs, chlordane and PAHs. Fish and wildlife habitat have been degraded by navigational dredging of the river and by bulkheading and other alterations of the shoreline. Fish tumors have been observed in the Buffalo River and are believed to be caused by PAHs in the sediments. Research and analysis of fish health and population completed in August 2005 indicate that fish diversity and health has not improved over the last decade based on the data obtained in 2003-04, and compared to data available from fish surveys of the early 1990s. Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption are primarily due to PCB and chlordane contamination. These consumption restrictions are part of the lakewide advisories for Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.

Based on measurements of benthic macroinvertebrates and toxicity tests conducted in a study in 1982 and on the presence of contaminated sediment in selected areas, certain sediments were evaluated as causing a “degradation of benthos” use impairment in the AOC. Research of benthic macroinvertebrates completed in August 2005 indicates that much of the Buffalo River continues to have low diversity and be dominated by pollution-tolerant species. These results indicate that there has been no improvement in the health or populations of the benthos since the last benthic studies conducted in 1992-93.

The presence of metals and cyanides in the sediment prevent open lake disposal of bottom sediments dredged from the river, and therefore result in a “restrictions on dredging” use impairment. The US Army Corps of Engineers-Buffalo District currently uses a confined disposal facility to dispose of dredge materials. The loss of fish and wildlife habitat, due to physical disturbances such as annual river maintenance dredging and bulkheading, has been dramatic.

Degradation of fish and wildlife populations, the tainting of fish and wildlife flavor, eutrophication or presence of microcystins, bird or animal deformities or reproductive problems, and phytoplankton populations will be investigated during FY2006-08.

For further information and details on all of the BUIs, see a corresponding Buffalo River Beneficial Use Impairments (PDF 98Kb, 4 pages) document and the Remedial Action Plan (RAP) documents listed in the RAP Development and Status section below.

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Delisting Targets

Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper’s first management goal as Buffalo River RAP Coordinator has been the creation of clear delisting criteria and restoration targets for the six recognized Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs). Riverkeeper developed the criteria after a re-evaluation of the status of the BUIs by the Remedial Advisory Committee through three Technical Advisory Groups (Sediments, Water Quality, and Habitat & Environs). Local, regional and statewide experts from relevant scientific fields also contributed to development of the criteria. The suggested criteria have been shared with the public at several Buffalo River forums, offering community residents an opportunity to participate in the RAP process. A table outlines delisting criteria/restoration targets (PDF 61Kb, 2 pages) for the six known BUIs in the Buffalo River AOC.

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RAP Development and Status

By investing in local coordination of the Buffalo River RAP, U.S. EPA has helped River stakeholders regain the momentum that was lost in the mid 1990’s. A newly organized Remedial Advisory Committee helped to re-evaluate the historical and ongoing problems of the Buffalo River, while at the same time setting goals and priorities for the short and long term. During the last two years, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper has helped make major strides for contaminated sediment remediation, habitat restoration and riparian protection. In addition, the community and stakeholders are once again re-focusing their attention and resources on efforts such as non-point source pollution, stormwater/CSOs, and public access. The increased visibility of the Buffalo River RAP and publicity and media attention that the river has recently received continues to generate local and regional public support and knowledge on the need to restore the AOC.

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Significant RAP Milestones

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RAP Implementation

The original Buffalo River RAP (1989) and Status Report update documents presented a remedial strategy that included a variety of remedial measures: stream water quality monitoring, contaminated bottom sediment assessment and action determination, inactive hazardous waste site remediation, point and nonpoint source discharge evaluation, combined sewer overflow assessment, remedial measure implementation monitoring, fish and wildlife beneficial use restoration, and habitat protection.

The 2005 Status Report incorporates new research and data about the AOC that was not available when the original RAP was written. It also includes a more detailed interpretation of AOC status as well as newly-recommended actions by the Remedial Advisory Committee. A complete re-write of the Buffalo River RAP is planned for 2006 and will reflect the updated status of the river and will detail the updated remedial strategy.

Recent progress and achievements

Current projects and outlook

Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper was recently awarded a five-year grant from U.S. EPA-Region II for the continued coordination and management of the Buffalo River RAP. The following highlights the next steps and commitments by Riverkeeper, the Buffalo River RAC, and agency partners during the next 5 years.

Beneficial Use Impairments

Delisting Criteria/Restoration Targets

Water Quality


Fish & Wildlife

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RAP-Related Publications

Buffalo River AOC Fate & Transport Studies

Human Health Considerations
The Buffalo River RAP and related Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and Great Lakes RAP documents contain a number of descriptions of ongoing activities relative to human health considerations. These human health consideration activities include narratives that describe the following initiatives: fish and wildlife consumption advisories; investigations, study needs and priorities; contaminated sediment criteria and management strategy; and air toxics health risk assessment required by the Clean Air Act Amendments.

Other Publications

Keeping up on RAP Information and Progress: If you would like to receive RAC brochures, announcements and updated reports about the Buffalo River RAP, please send your name, address and specific request to the RAP Coordinator in the Buffalo River AOC Contacts section below.

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Community Involvement

In October 2003, the U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) selected Friends of the Buffalo Niagara Rivers to coordinate the implementation of the Buffalo River Remedial Action Plan. Effective July 2005, the Friends changed names to Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.

With the assistance of the Remedial Advisory Committee (RAC), NYSDEC and other governmental and non-governmental organizations, Riverkeeper has begun to make significant progress towards delisting. Since taking over coordination of the RAP, Riverkeeper has re-engaged the RAC, conducted a full re-assessment of all 14 beneficial uses, developed delisting criteria/restoration targets for five of the six known BUIs, tracked Buffalo River research and ongoing projects, identified data gaps and needed projects related to BUI assessment, and prepared the 2005 Buffalo River RAP Status Report.

Although community involvement activities have not been identified as specific RAP goals, nor are they directly related to the 14 Beneficial Use Impairments, each of these activities plays an integral role in RAP implementation. Public access projects frequently correspond with habitat restoration; environmental education is key to addressing nonpoint source pollution; and public participation is often times a requirement for many studies and environmental actions.

Times Beach Public Access Project
The Times Beach Public Access Project is a collaborative effort, with the US Army Corps of Engineers conducting ecosystem restoration; Erie County, in cooperation with the City of Buffalo, providing public access; and the Times Beach ad hoc Committee serving in an advisory capacity. Project highlights include elevated boardwalks, ground-level paths, bird watching blinds, overlook platforms and a bulletin-board style information kiosk. The Times Beach Project provides safe public access to one of the best birding areas in the Northeastern United States. The first phase of the Times Beach project restored the southeast portion of the site. Improvements included a 6’ wide by ~750’ long stone path trail, a 12’ x 28’ overlook platform; one bird watching blind, a parking lot for 10 cars, and information kiosk, and limited fence repairs. Phase I was completed in 2004. The second phase of the project encompasses the majority of the site, stretching to the northwest boundary. Proposed improvements include a system of 6’ wide stone trails and elevated boardwalks totaling ~4,000 linear feet, two bird watching blinds, one minor overlook platform, and complete fence repairs. Phase II has recently received funding commitments and is set to commence in Fall 2005.

Buffalo River Public Outreach Efforts
FBNRExit disclaimer conducted three public forums on the status of the Buffalo River. These community meetings were held at the Peter Machnica Center in Kaisertown (May 2004), Valley Community Center in Valley (October 2004), and Old First Ward Community Center in the First Ward (May 2005). Community members were invited to take these opportunities to learn about our progress on the Buffalo River and lend their voices to the discussion. Individuals interested in fishing, birding, hiking, boating or otherwise enjoying the Buffalo River waterfront attended. Outreach efforts also included door-to-door discussions with community members.

Education and Stewardship Programs
The Valley Community Association has partnered with several organizations to conduct education and stewardship programs on the Buffalo River.

Since 2003, FBNR has conducted 10-15 semiannual neighborhood cleanups at various sites along the Buffalo River to encourage community stewardship of the waterfront.

Erie County Water Quality Advisory Committee
The Erie County Water Quality Strategy was prepared by the Erie County Water Quality Advisory Committee. The committee works to coordinate efforts to improve water quality in the county, especially through the development and implementation of a strategy to control nonpoint source water pollution. The Water Quality Advisory Committee (WQAC) plans to concentrate on nonpoint source water pollution problems. Nonpoint sources are seen as a threat or potential threat to water quality in all of the county's major watersheds. Sources of nonpoint pollution include: agricultural and related runoff (fertilizers and pesticides), sedimentation from erosion, septic system failure and other runoff from sources such as road salt, leaking underground storage tanks and other chemical containers.

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Aerial view of Buffalo River

Aerial view of lower Buffalo River, looking from the Michigan Street lift bridge (bottom of picture) west to the South Buffalo community.

boat taking samples in the river

R/V Mudpuppy sampling in the Buffalo River near the Smith Street habitat restoration site, August 2005. credit: Martin Doster, NYSDEC

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