A recent bike excursion to Unity Island was a real eye opener when I came across an aquatic habitat restoration project that was underway. Assuming that it was a Waterkeeper effort, I reached out to the organization, only to learn that it was in fact under the umbrella of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
To learn more about the habitat restoration, I got in touch with Corps Project Manager, Gabriel Schmidbauer, PMP, who explained that what I had come across what was essentially the recreation of a significant fish and wildlife habitat.
Part of the process was to take clean dredge material from the upper Buffalo River and build a series of islands and channels. Another aspect of the project saw the implementation of a new weir that allows the flow of water to pass from the Niagara River to the ponds and channels under a stone dike – this allows fish to easily access the habitat while escaping predators and strong currents (see inset right). Then there’s the invasive species removal that is underway – the invasive plants are being replaced with native species. And finally there is additional habitat creation, brought about by tying down logs that mimic natural habitats. Eventually an electric pump feature will be added, which will create additional water flow in all three ponds.
The project supports:
- The delisting of the Niagara River Areas of Concern (AOC) by treating (over 3 years) 6 acres of Aquatic Invasive Species) AIS acres
- Planting of native species to help maintain a high level of vegetative diversity
- 1,800 feet of fish passage restoration
- 3.3 acres of expanded fish access to inland aquatic habitat
- 0.60 acres of emergent and aquatic habitat enhancement and aquatic habitat enhancement
- 0.90 acres of expanded riparian Buffer
- Creation of over five acres of emergent and submerged aquatic habitat
- Creation of wetland communities along the shoreline
- The creation of deep-water fish habitat using submerged trees will increase the density and diversity of aquatic species
Currently, there is a barrier fence that was put in place during the heavy construction of reforming the islands and channels. That fence, running along the southern border of the project will come down in late June, and the site, including the Black Rock Lock pier, will be open again for fishing (swimming is prohibited). Schmidbauer said that accessibility won’t be an issue. He also noted that the project is being funded 65% by federal, and 35% by the Greenway Commission. The City of Buffalo is the non-federal sponsor for the project.
In the photos, we can see that the water levels are very high, but eventually the emergent wetlands will be visible.