BUFFALO, N.Y. — In a world full of abundant yet decreasing resources, our most precious is certainly water. From creeks to rivers to lakes, Western New York is graced with plentiful sources of water, and that's all the more reason to stand vigilant in protecting it. 

But that has not always been so, as a look back into our fairly recent history will testify.

"The 50s and 60s were about as bad as it can possibly get. We had, locally, our rivers were declared dead. There was no oxygen in them. They were catching fire, but that was the norm. That was the standard around here. Certainly we've come a long way, but you can't get much worse than dead," said Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper Executive Director Jill Jedlicka.

The catalyst for change began at the grassroots level. Jedlicka says it was a collective force that led to that change.

"It was a lot of individual activism and people started to coordinate their voices. They started to identify solutions to the problems instead of just pointing out the problems, and that was really the foundation of our organization as well. It's one thing to point at others and tell them what they're doing wrong, and it's another thing to come to the table and work toward a solution," said Jedlicka.

Eighteen Mile Creek
The EPA is attempting to roll back decades of water protection.
Terry A. Belke

Western New York is fortunate to have groups like Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper standing guard on our behalf, but the watch needs to be kept by us all. 

Despite the improvements made, we still face some serious issues. Pollution is still a force, as are invasive species. There are also new and unexpected threats looming. Our own government, which enacted such safeguards as the EPA and the Clean Water Act, are now rolling back regulations that protect this most important resource.

"The EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers are attempting to roll back forty years of protections under the Clean Water Act, it's called the Clean Water Rule. The Clean Water Rule is designed to identify which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act," says Jedlicka. "What's going to happen is the unintended consequences that we may lose protections of up to sixty percent of our waters in Western New York. That's a big deal."

The most voiced argument in favor of repealing protective legislation is that the regulations damage the economy. That could not be further from the truth. "It's shocking that that argument is coming back again," said Jedlicka.

"We're placing jobs versus the environment. Because when you look at the case study of the restoration of the Buffalo River, we are an international success story of almost a four-to-one return. For every dollar that was invested in the restoration of the river, [it was] turned into four dollars of economic gain."

This is a fight we must all, at every level, engage. Simple things like education, conservation, and reducing plastic use will all help. Sometimes just a walk along the shore inspires action.

"If you're able to access it, and you understand more about what you're looking at and why these systems are important, you're going to fight for them. And that's what we need. We need an army of people to fight for our water resources," said Jedlicka.

For more information on Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, click here.