Buffalo River (New York)
Buffalo River where it empties into Lake Erie. The lighthouse on the left of the river is the Buffalo Main Light
|- left||Cayuga Creek|
|- right||Buffalo Creek (New York), Cazenovia Creek|
|- elevation||1,450 ft (442 m) |
|- elevation||570 ft (174 m) |
|Length||8 mi (13 km) approximately|
|Basin||447 sq mi (1,158 km2) total watershed|
The Buffalo River drains a 447 square mile watershed, emptying into the eastern end of Lake Erie at the City of Buffalo. The river has three tributaries: Cayuga Creek, Buffalo Creek, and Cazenovia Creek. The Buffalo River has been important to the development of western New York, including as the terminus for the Erie Canal beginning in 1825, and later as an industrial area with uses including grain elevators, steel mills and chemical production. When shipping began to bypass the Erie Canal in the 1950s, and later with the decline of heavy industry in the region, the transportation and industrial use of the river greatly declined and many adjacent factories and grain mills were abandoned. The river and adjacent sites have been the focus of efforts over several decades to improve water quality and restore habitat, most recently in 2011 with the commencement of the Buffalo River Restoration Project.
The Buffalo River flows westward from the point of confluence, passing through residential and heavily industrialized parts of the city. 6.2 miles of the river are a federal navigation channel maintained by the United States Army Corps of Engineers at a depth of 23 feet below lake level (along with an additional 1.4 miles of the City Ship Canal). Because of this designation, bridges in the navigable part of the river are required to allow for passage of high vessels, and many of them are draw bridges. The very low hydraulic gradient of the river along with the dredging gives the river an estuarine-like character. Much of the shoreline is hardened by riprap, bulkheads and other structures, and little vegetation remains along the banks. The river enters the lake between a United States Coast Guard station and the Erie Basin Marina. The grounds of the Coast Guard station include the Buffalo Main Light, established in 1833.
The mouth of the river where it meets the lake is part of the Port of Buffalo, and is able to take on larger vessels. The Port was expanded to include the City Ship Canal and its extension, the Lehigh Valley Canal. Some of the canals have now been filled in, and the ponds at Tifft Farm Nature Preserve in the southwest corner of the city, although now no longer connected, originally were part of this canal system and were used by the Lehigh Valley Railroad as a terminal facility. The Army Corps of Engineers dredges the River and the City Ship Canal every two to three years, removing about 100,000 cubic yards of sediment. Dredging sediment is placed in a confined disposal facility located on Lake Erie near the former Bethlehem Steel facility. In 2011 and 2012 a more extensive dredging effort was undertaken as part of the Buffalo River Restoration Project to remove contaminated sediment from both the navigable waterway and from an upstream part of the Buffalo River that is not normally dredged.
Buffalo Creek is a meandering stream before it becomes the Buffalo River. It originates in the south part of Erie County and the western part of Wyoming County. The Erie County sources are in the Town of Holland before flowing northward through the other towns in the county. In Wyoming County, the sources are in the Towns of Arcade, Java, and Sheldon, before flowing into Erie County. The creek flows through Elma and West Seneca, before its confluence with Cayuga Creek in West Seneca.
Cayuga Creek is the northernmost tributary in the watershed. This 40 mile long creek begins in primarily farmland/wooded areas and passes through several residential communities including Cheektowaga, Lancaster, and Depew before its confluence with Buffalo Creek.
The East Branch of Cazenovia Creek begins in Sardinia and the West Branch begins in Concord. The land adjacent to these two branches is primarily agricultural and wooded areas with the exception of several small residential communities. The two branches meet near East Aurora and Cazenovia Creek then flows through the towns of Aurora, Elma, and West Seneca and the City of Buffalo until its confluence with the Buffalo River.
Buffalo Creek is believed to have been held by the Neutral Nation prior to the 1650s, when the Seneca nation and its allies conquered the territory during the Beaver Wars. An Indian village was established on Buffalo Creek by the British in the spring of 1780. These were Senecas and others who had fled to Fort Niagara after the Sullivan Expedition of 1779. On July 8, 1788, Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham met with Indians of the Five Indian Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy (including Mohawks, Oneidas, Onandagas, Cayugas, and Senecas) at Buffalo Creek to execute a deed or treaty for rights to their lands in New York State east of the Genesee River (see Phelps and Gorham Purchase). In 1838, the Treaty of Buffalo Creek dealt with the disposition of the remaining land held by the Iroquois Confederation.
The Buffalo River was the western terminus of the famed Erie Canal. Entry to the River from the Canal was gained via the mouth of a small tributary, Little Buffalo Creek, which was excavated and stabilized to form the Commercial Slip leading from the Erie Canal. The Buffalo River formed the southwest boundary of the rough pentagon that enclosed the "Five Points" or "Canal Street" district, bounded on the northeast by the Erie Canal. When the Canal was completed in 1825, New York Governor Dewitt Clinton's vessel was towed from the Canal through the Commercial Slip and Buffalo River to Lake Erie, where he poured Atlantic Ocean water into the Lake, and collected Lake water to place in the ocean after his return trip to New York City.
Origin of the name
It is believed that the City of Buffalo received its name from the creek of the same name; however, there are several unproven theories as to the origin of the name of the creek. Early French and Moravian explorers reported the abundance of buffalo on the south shore of Lake Erie, but their presence on the banks of Buffalo Creek is still a matter of debate, so the origin of the name of the creek is still uncertain, although American Bison did range into western NY state at one time. Neither the Native American name ("Place of the Basswoods") or the French name ("River of Horses") survived so the current name likely dates to the British occupation which began with the capture of Fort Niagara in 1759. The British engineer John Montresor mentions the name Buffalo Creek four times in his journal of 1764, indicating that the name was in common use at that time. Another argument is that the creek is named after a Native American who once lived on the bank of the river, but there is no evidence to support this theory. There are many other Buffalo Creeks in the country, many of them in eastern states, and we can assume most of them were named after the animal, as is done with all the Beaver Creeks, Otter Creeks, etc. The claim that the name is an Anglicized form of the name Beau Fleuve (beautiful river), which was supposedly an exclamation uttered by Louis Hennepin when he first saw the stream, is the least likely explanation.
Contamination and remediation
The Buffalo River and to a lesser degree its tributaries have been the site of heavy industry, although this has declined in recent decades. This, along with large combined sewer overflows along the river, has resulted in highly contaminated sediments and impaired water quality. In 1987, most of the Buffalo River along with the City Ship Canal was listed as one of 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern in The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the United States and Canada. In 2011 the Buffalo River Restoration Project commenced, which includes major dredging to remove contaminated sediment, habitat restoration, and site access projects. According to a statement by the Army Corps of Engineers in the spring of 2012, the project will result in the Buffalo River being removed from the list of Areas of Concern in three to five years.
The Buffalo office of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation established the Buffalo River Urban Canoe Trail and published a guide in the 1990s describing the bridges, factories and other points of interest along the river. In 2011, Buffalo River Fest Park was opened along the river, including docks, a boardwalk, and a band stand.
- Google Earth elevation for GNIS coordinates.
- U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Buffalo Creek
- "Buffalo River Restoration Project". NYSDEC. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
- "BUFFALO RIVER STRATEGIC NAVIGATIONAL DREDGING". USACE. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
- "Buffalo River Watershed". Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
- McKeveley, Blake (January 1939). "Historic Aspects of the Phelps and Gorham Treaty of July 4-8, 1788". Rochester History (Rochester Public Library) 1 (1). ISSN 0035-7413. Retrieved 2008-01-05.
- David Zeisberger's History of the Northern American Indian, c. 1790, edited by the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society |
- "The Buffalo River Area of Concern". Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
- Baldwin, Richard E. (July 23, 2012). "Dredging of Buffalo River sludge is due to finish phase by month's end". Buffalo News. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
- "Buffalo River Urban Canoe Trail Guide". NYSDEC. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
- Neville, Anne (31 May 2011). "Buffalo River Fest Park gets ready for debut as waterfront attraction". Buffalo News. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
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