"Floatables" Problem at Canal Side is Addressed

August 9, 2010 Updated Aug 9, 2010 at 6:40 PM EDT

By Ginger Geoffery

August 9, 2010 Updated Aug 9, 2010 at 6:40 PM EDT

Tree branches, trash, and even human waste still wash up in the water at Buffalo's recently reconstructed inner harbor, but the hope is that will not be the case much longer. Federal stimulus money in the amount of $17.6 million is being spent to put a filter on the Hamburg drain that empties into the Commercial Slip at Canal Side. It's an important step forward as Canal Side continues to be developed as a tourist destination.

"Where you see 'floatables' at Canal Side, you won't see that anymore," says U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo).

Fixing all of the region's contaminated water problems though, such as high bacteria levels that force many local beaches to close after heavy rains, would involve separating miles of sewer pipes from storm drains in a sewage system that dates back to the early 1900s.

"It's not a bad system," says Julie O'Neill, Executive Director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, "It's not a faulty design. We have just developed these hard surfaces around it which cause it to overflow into local waterways."

Improving the system though could cost up to $500 million, according to some environmental groups, and right now there's no money allocated for the improvements although U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo) says he's working on it. "We're finding that if we don't do something to address the infrastructure, to keep our waters clean that great resource will begin to dissipate and slip away from us," says Higgins.

In the meantime the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper group is asking businesses and individuals to make small changes to help reduce the problem such as installing rain barrels so less storm water can flood storm drains. "The simple act of disconnecting your gutters can go a long way to keeping water out of the sewer system and every person can do that today at their home," says O'Neill.

O'Neill says the Riverkeeper organization is also working with the City of Buffalo on plans to put in rain barrels at public buildings. Learn more at: http://bnriverkeeper.org/