The Buffalo River (River) is approximately 8.7 miles long with an approximate average width of 300 feet. It is formed by the confluence of the Buffalo and Cayuga Creeks. Additional source water is supplied by a third tributary, Cazenovia Creek, which flows into the River downstream of the confluence with Cayuga Creek. The River then empties into Lake Erie at the head of the Niagara River. The City Ship Canal, also referred to as the Buffalo Ship Canal, forms a spur of aquatic habitat that stretches approximately 1.4 miles parallel to the Lake Erie shoreline from the mouth of the River south to the Tift Nature Preserve. The Canal was originally constructed in 1850, widened in 1873, and lengthened in 1883. The River and the City Ship Canal serve as important habitat for warmwater fish, migratory birds, and other wildlife. The Buffalo River is also a significant cultural site of the Haudenosaunee and is the location of the former Buffalo Creek Reservation.
The River has endured a history of anthropogenic contamination. The River and City Ship Canal have been a historical center of shipping commerce, and as a result, much of the shoreline is industrialized and channelized. The River is maintained by the USACE as a navigable waterway, with dredging operations conducted periodically in the lower 5.8 miles of the River to maintain minimal depths for navigation. The industrial development along the River and growing municipality resulted in contamination of the River and City Ship Canal with hazardous substances including PAHs, PCBs, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, mercury, nickel, lead, zinc, aniline, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene (BTEX), phenols, and oil.
To address the sediment contamination, the Buffalo River Restoration Partnership undertook two major environmental dredging projects. The first environmental dredging project, Phase 1, removed an estimated 550,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediments from the federal navigation channel. The second environmental dredging project, Phase 2, removed approximately 453,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment outside of the navigation channel, with targeted removal depths to clay or glacial till. In addition, approximately 50,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment within the City Ship Canal were capped to isolate contamination.