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The Return of the "Gala Waters"

Nothing but blue skies spread out above Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park Wednesday morning as the media gathered on the walkway between the lake and Scajaquada Creek—the foul estuary that has been picking up all manner of garbage, sewage, and God knows what from the suburbs to the east and depositing the bounty in a metal grate before tunneling under the lake, resurfacing parallel to route 198 on its slow slog toward the Niagara River. For decades, during heavy rains it was not uncommon for the creek to wash over the walkway and into the lake.

Hoyt Lake, which was formerly identified in 19th-century maps of the park as “The Gala Waters” lost a good portion of its size when land from the construction of the 198 filled it in in the 1950s. Since then, the lake has been more of a lagoon, fed for years by water pumped in from a fire hydrant by the bank, and the eastern end of it has become synonymous with bad smells. Perhaps more troubling have been the shocking fish kills, when hundreds of big, dead carp have washed up on the banks.

This summer, the city drilled two new artesian wells to feed the lake from the eastern shore. With funding from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Olmsted Parks Conservancy collaborated with the city of Buffalo to install a fountain in an attempt to aerate the water to increase the oxygen level in the lake, thereby helping the fish and ecosystem begin to heal. That’s the idea. And it re-creates the look of the fountain that used to gush in the old Gala Waters back in the day.

Another proposal had been to run perforated hoses at the bottom of the lake and bubble air throughout the body of water. Perhaps more effective, but that would have required generators that could have disrupted the historic Olmsted look, and there would have been no spectacle like a fountain to dazzle visitors—and dazzled they were when the switch was flipped and the cameras rolled as state Senator Mark Grisanti, state Assemblyman Sean Ryan, Olmsted Conservancy CEO Thomas Herrera-Mishler, and Buffalo-Niagara Riverkeeper executive director Jill Spisiak Jedlicka posed in front of the geyser, just days before the end of summer, when it had been promised the project would be completed.

What could be troubling in this picture? Well, the event took place even as the Army Corps of Engineers was continuing to take samples from the bottom of the lake. Those tests were being paid for partly with money from the same DEC pot that paid for the fountain, along with other money leveraged from the Federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Only the day before, they had been scraping up sediment, drilling deeper for more samples, and pulling up water at the very bottom in order to run tests to see what kinds of pollutants, perhaps toxic, may be lurking there, undisturbed for decades.

The results of those tests will not be known for several weeks, but with a flip of the switch, water from the bottom of the lake was sucked up and sprayed in all directions, 30 feet into the air.

When I asked representatives of the Army Corps and the DEC if this might be of any concern, I was referred to the local DEC press officer—who offered to check with Albany. At press time, I had not heard back.

All the speakers stressed that this was just the beginning of a long process to clean up Hoyt Lake—one that may eventually include dredging the polluted bottom.

In the meantime, the newly reborn Gala Waters—complete with lights—will spray prettily into the air. The fountain won’t run overnight, and will be turned off during the winter. It is powered by electricity, with the city picking up the tab.

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