Saturday, November 30, 2013

Water quality concerns for Rochester, NY’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program


Genesee River Lower Falls The due date for public comment for Rochester, NY’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP) comes to an end this December. You can complete a survey and/or submit a comment online here: Rochester LWRP Update. The description of the program is as follows from the City of Rochester: “The purpose of this project is to update the city’s LWRP and expand the boundary of the plan to include all of the city’s waterfront areas along Lake Ontario, the Genesee River and the Erie Canal.”

The ten questions on the survey mostly contain a wish-list of projects to make life more appealing to those who visit, live, or want to develop along our city’s waterfronts. Stuff like creating a skate park, more fishing sites, more bars and restaurants, more residential homes, and more trails figure large. And then there is a project peculiar to our city, and I suspect wildly expensive, the ‘re-watering the old Erie Canal through downtown’. There’s also the Garden Ariel loop project that would “Through stewardship, innovative design, and community outreach to preserve natural and historic resources, and cultivate High Falls transformation into a world-class public green space.” One survey option—“naturally preserved, undeveloped” must have been thrown in as a sop to hardcore environmentalists because out of all the options this would be the most expensive, spending millions of dollars to clean-up this developed and historically abused region—and then do nothing with it except let Nature be Nature. If this option sends chills down the spine of future developers, don’t worry; it has about the same chance as a rich climate denier passing through the eye of a needle.

My focus is on the water quality of one these projects’s centerpieces, the Genesee River. It’s going to be hard to enjoy any of the suggestions listed in the survey (they mention casinos) if the water is lousy. The Genesee River has been given some negative news lately, as it has been named the 32nd most toxic polluted river in the US according to this report: Wasting Our Waterways 2012 by Environment America Research and Policy Center, March 22, 2012.

A troubling note comes from a local mainstream media article. While rhapsodizing on the Genesee’s great fishing, it just happens to mention “Most fish caught here are stocked rather than wild” Rochester's Lower Falls an angler's paradise  (November 16, 2013) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle). A healthy, thriving riparian and river ecology with a healthy fishing industry is not one that has to be continually stocked.

And then there’s this from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation:

Various recreational uses, aquatic life support and aesthetics in urban waterways of the Lower Genesee River are significantly restricted by pollutants from various industrial, municipal, commercial and other sources in the highly-urbanized metropolitan Rochester area and surrounding suburban communities. Nonpoint urban runoff flushes a variety of pollutants and debris into the river. Contaminated sediments, inactive hazardous waste sites and other impacts attributed to past/historic discharges also limit uses. (Page 5, The 2001 Genesee River Basin Waterbody Inventory and Priority Waterbodies List, Bureau of Watershed Assessment and Research, Division of Water, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation

There’s a wonderfully comprehensive and detailed study from the University of Rochester on how we, and perhaps other communities around the state, might develop their waterfronts with the public’s health in mind. It’s the Healthy Waterways: A Health Impact Assessment of the City of Rochester, New York’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program Report, May 2013

Healthy Waterways was a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) of the City of Rochester, NY's Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP) update. … In the Healthy Waterways report, we provide information and recommendations to help decision makers and stakeholders understand how to maximize the positive health impacts of water resource related decisions, while minimizing negative effects on the health of Rochester’s communities. In so doing, we hope to create a statewide model for incorporating HIA in the LWRP process. (University of Rochester Medical Center)

This report and the cautionary reports that the Genesee River needs some serious TLC for its water quality, should come before any of the other projects of the (LWRP) are entertained—not as an afterthought.

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