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Clean Water and Western New York's Future

A still from Anna Scime's "Everyone Lives Downstream."

What do we have to do to get some clean water around here?

That’s the topic of the first in a series of four public forums on big challenges facing Buffalo and Western New York. The Obama administration created the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, but precious little of the hundreds of millions of dollars for cleaning up our greatest natural resource have made it to Buffalo. The Buffalo Sewer Authority has an important “green” demonstration project underway, and is searching for ways to end the stinking mix of stormwater and raw sewage that fouls waterways, but is still negotiating with the EPA on complying with the federal Clean Water Act. Meanwhile, far upstream in the 400-plus miles of the Buffalo River watershed that are beyond Buffalo’s city limits, the problem nobody is talking about continues—with leaking septic tanks, farm runoff, and pollution from suburbia keeping the Buffalo River so dirty that most of the wildlife in it are sick.

Saturday’s discussion begins with a showing of Anna Scime’s film, “Everybody Lives Downstream,” a documentary tracing the roots of today’s Army Corps of Engineers dredging project on the Buffalo River. The screening will be followed by brief presentations by experts and analysts on the environmental work that remains, the potential economic impact of restoring the health of the Buffalo River and its watershed, and the community benefit from taking a “green” approach to the challenge.

Confirmed participants in the panel include Buffalo State College geography professor Kim Irvine and AFL-CIO Federation president Richard Lipsitz. We have invited (and have been assured of) participation from elected and appointed officials with responsibility for water-quality issues. Artvoice columnist Bruce Fisher, visiting professor of economics and director of the Center for Economic and Policy Studies at Buffalo State, will present a review of clean-water initiatives underway in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse, with special emphasis on how these communities bring federal and state funding sources together to help region-wide initiatives.

The forum is co-sponsored by Artvoice and the Center for Economic and Policy Studies at Buffalo State College, in cooperation with Greenwatch. It takes place Saturday, February 25, 2-5pm, at the Burchfield Penney Art Center.

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