A century's worth of toxic waste will be dredged out of the Buffalo River over the next two years as part of an ambitious, $50 million cleanup effort that aims to turn a 6.2-mile industrial wasteland into a place the public can again enjoy.
The project, the biggest cleanup effort in the history of the Great Lakes, is being funded by a slew of federal, private and nonprofit sources and will be completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It kicked off Tuesday with a ceremony at Canalside. When all is said and done, more than one million cubic yards of toxic sediment will have been removed from the river.
"The objective is very, very simple: It's to create an interconnected system of parks and public places along the water's edge," said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, who spoke at Tuesday's ceremony about how a cleaner river can benefit the area. "It's to remove the barriers to access, so that thousands of people, as we have witnessed this year, can come and enjoy this great resource that is all of ours."
Dotted with old grain elevators, abandoned factories and even a car junkyard, the Buffalo riverfront has been one of the "toxic hot spots" in the Great Lakes for decades.
Much of the first few miles of the river has no natural shoreline, and tall retaining walls keep the water flowing out to Lake Erie. Throughout the river, even upstream toward the greener shoreline areas that have been targeted for development, the water remains a muddy, greenish-gray color.
So, after years of neglect, what exactly is down there, below the water's surface?
The main pollutants are lead, mercury and PCBs, the dumping of which has been banned by federal regulation for decades. But these chemicals remain deep below the water, and when they are exposed, they can easily get into the ecosystem, killing plant life, making it unsafe to eat fish and making the river an unhealthy and undesirable place to swim.
This greatly limits public and private development of the area around the river, something that has been elusive on the Buffalo riverfront for many years.
But the hope is that certain areas can be targeted to allow for more access. State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, said the same "laser-beam focus" he, Higgins and others put on Canalside over the past six years needs to be put on the Buffalo River. "I'd like to see small businesses, retail, restaurants and a critical mass of development that will not only help bring people down here but keep them coming back," said Kennedy, who represents parts of South Buffalo and Lackawanna. "It's a blank canvas we're working with, but it's a fantastic thing, we're at the very beginning of the new waterfront, and with continued investment, the limits are endless."
It has been a long and perilous journey, but otters have finally managed to swim back from the brink of extinction and into every county in England.
Two otters have been spotted building their holts on the banks of the rivers Medway and Eden in Kent, delighting conservationists who had previously predicted they would not return to the county for another 10 years.
"The fact that otters are now returning to Kent is the final piece in the jigsaw for otter recovery in England and is a symbol of great success for everybody involved in otter conservation," said Alastair Driver, the national conservation manager for the Environment Agency.
Otters have reappeared in places where they have not been seen since the industrial revolution, including Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester, and even on the Thames and the Lea in north London. A recent survey on the river Ribble, in Lancashire, showed a 44% increase in otter numbers since 2008.
The Kentish otters herald a remarkable – if slow – renaissance for the sleek, fish-devouring member of the mustelid family, which declined by 95% of its range in western Europe during the 20th century.
In England the otter disappeared dramatically between the 1950s and 1970s because of persecution and pesticides washing into waterways.
After otter hunting was belatedly banned in Britain in 1978, numbers began to increase – particularly following the withdrawal of organochlorine chemicals and a more general improvement in water quality, leading to more fish in rivers and lakes.
The meandering path of the Missouri River, charted by Lewis and Clark, once served as the main travel artery across the Great Plains, carrying people and goods between the comforts of St. Louis and the wilds of the Montana territory.
But as railroads and highways replaced the river as the preferred shipping routes, barge traffic dried up so much that some ports have gone years without seeing a single one. And now the river is dividing the region that it had stitched together with each of its oxbow bends.
The record flooding this summer along the Missouri River has overwhelmed dams and levees, swamped small communities and forced large cities into emergency measures to hold the water back. And so the pressing matter of how to manage flooding on the Missouri has added a new urgency to the contentious question that has long nagged this region: What precisely is this river for?
In a normal year, the water that is used to keep the river level high enough for barges comes from releases from the dam system built to control river flow. But the states north of the dams, including North and South Dakota, have argued that the river is no longer needed for navigation and that more water should be kept in the reservoirs for recreation, to help the region’s economy.
The summer-long flood brought promises of renewed cooperation after years of legal and legislative battles. Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, said a recent meeting of a group of senators to examine how the waterway was managed represented “a high point, pardon the expression, for cooperation for states along the Missouri River.”
Earlier this year, the Missouri Congressional delegation succeeded in stripping financing, after more than $7 million had been spent, from a study of the priorities for river management that was supported by upriver states, arguing that it was redundant and amounted to an attack on navigation.
Even as Ms. McCaskill praised the collaboration in fighting flooding, she noted that she and other leaders from both parties in Missouri remained committed to supporting shipping interests on the river. “While navigation is much more important than recreation, we should not let the fight between navigation and recreation get in the way of flood control,” Ms. McCaskill said.
Though the river cuts through the heart of farm country, almost no grain is transported on the Missouri - 4.8 million of the 5 million tons of cargo moved by barge last year was sand and gravel, which was usually shipped less than a mile. Traffic upriver from Kansas City all but disappeared.
After half a century of oil spills, Nigeria's troubled Niger Delta is one of the most polluted places on Earth, and it could take $1 billion and 30 years to clean up the mess, according to a U.N. report released Thursday.
A 14-month study by the United Nations Environment Program that was commissioned by the Nigerian government examined 200 locations and 75 miles of pipeline, more than 4,000 soil and water samples and the medical reports of 5,000 people.
"Pollution from over 50 years of oil operations in the region has penetrated further and deeper than many may have supposed," the report says. Some areas that seemed unaffected on the surface are severely contaminated underground and need urgent action to protect the health of fishing and farming communities, it says.
The Nigerian government says there were more than 7,000 oil spills from 1970 to 2000. The U.N. agency handed its report Thursday to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.
The drinking water in at least 10 communities had high levels of dangerous hydrocarbons, and in one village, about half an inch of refined oil was floating on groundwater used by villagers for drinking. The level of carcinogenic benzene in the drinking water at the village, Nisisioken Ogale, was 900 times World Health Organization standards.
The Ogoni people have struggled to get compensation for the damage caused by oil production since the early 1990s, a movement headed by Nigerian environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was executed in 1995 by the military government, causing international condemnation.
Most communities rely on mangrove swamps for fish and soil for their crops. The U.N. agency said the effect on the mangroves had been disastrous.
"Oil pollution in many inter-tidal creeks has left mangroves - nurseries for fish and natural pollution filters - denuded of leaves and stems, with roots coated in a layer of bitumen-type substance sometimes one centimeter or more thick," the statement said. In some places a crust of ash and tar caused by fires after oil spills had been left for decades.
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