Saturday, the sunny streak was sustained. Mother Nature smiled benevolently, as she seems to do for most of Buffalo-Niagara Waterkeeper cleanups, which is not a surprise given that she is a beneficiary of their efforts. Over a hundred volunteers took advantage of the beautiful fall weather to clean up the creek at sites from Cheektowaga Town Park west to West Avenue, near the mouth of the creek.
At West Avenue, the cleanup collared a clinking clanking clattering collection of caliginous junk: shopping carts, bike frames, tires, and plastic – lots of plastic. These things are almost as ubiquitous in the creek as raw sewage after a rainstorm from the many CSOs that empty into the severely impaired waterway.
This time, that typical haul was also supplemented by a large number of discarded wide-screen TVs. Municipal trash collection won’t take them curbside, so many end up abandoned on city streets, dead-end roads, vacant lots, and along waterways. Full of toxic and exotic materials that don’t break down naturally, the prevalence of discarded electronics looks to me like a future environmental crisis in the making that municipal governments seem reluctant to tackle head-on.
I arrived at West Avenue just in time to see Chris Murawski, Waterkeeper’s Community Engagement Director, leading a mini-flotilla of watercraft like Viking raiders returning with their spoils, or – more appropriate for the region – Voyageurs returning with a load of pelts.
While waiting for him to unload, I spoke with Elizabeth Cute, Waterkeeper’s Community Engagement Manager about the cleanup. She told me that Spectrum News had been by to interview her earlier, and here is a link to the interview. (Many thanks to Stephen Marth, Assistant News Director for posting the interview for us.)
Although Saturday’s cleaners-up at West Avenue had no shortage of trash and junk to remove, the overall volume of materials seemed low compared to previous cleanups there. We may have the virus to “thank” for that, perhaps resulting in a relative lack of construction debris (with the exception of a concrete staircase – no, really – that was somehow deposited under the viaduct). But I think the site feeling less isolated than it has in the past also had a lot to do with that. Just a half-decade or so ago, West Avenue was closed to traffic at the creek, and Contract Pharmaceuticals (formerly Westwood) had taken over much of the street for truck parking. Now with the street open again, with Contract Pharmaceuticals replaced by student housing, and with mixed-use projects such the Black Rock Freight House and the Crescendo nearby, the street is much more active, making it more difficult to dumpers to go unseen. During the cleanup auto traffic was a frequent presence, whereas in recent years it was only occasional. Cyclists went past frequently too, on a stretch of West Avenue that doubles as a section of the Jesse Kregal Pathway.
But that new development, while in many ways representing a step forward for a neglected creek, can have a darker side. Arriving for the cleanup, Waterkeeper staff was confronted with a disturbing sight at the site: the entire riparian buffer between the new self-storage complex project and the creek had been entirely removed. It was a jarring sight for anyone familiar with the site, because before this clear-cut the riparian buffer was substantial (see below). Whoever was responsible even cut trees along West Avenue, on the city-owned right-of-way. Waterkeeper is looking into the matter.
Why trees are important, especially along waterways – the riparian zone – almost goes without saying, but Chris Murawski laid it out simply here:
Why are trees important to us? “They help 1. Reduce pollution that goes into our waterways. 2. Provide habitat for wildlife. 3. Improve water quality along shorelines.”
While it’s great that Buffalo’s Lorax recently found a home on Essex Street, perhaps we need to find him a pied-à-terre on the Scajaquada.
As the western Scajaquada moves into its post-industrial future, increased economic activity and human activity both giveth and taketh away. Less dumping in the creek is an environmental win, but more depredations on the land side are an environmental loss. Waterkeeper rightly makes the case for the blue economy, that improving our waterways produces economic as well as environmental benefits. Yet at the same time new development pressures, such as at the auto impound site, put existing ecology at risk, and also risk cutting off ecological restoration opportunities and recreational opportunities.
Clearly, to protect and restore Scajaquada Creek, we’re all going to have to become waterkeepers. And also Loraxes.
For more about Scajaquada September, get connected with Buffalo-Niagara Waterkeeper here.
The photo album below includes other pictures taken nearby, including of the Peter Street cleanup site.