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Local waterways have the potential to foster what some call a “blue economy.” Some view them as our greatest regional asset.

Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper is a not-for-profit group that works to protect water quality and promote public access. Executive Director Jill Jedlicka sat down with The News’ Brian Meyer to discuss ongoing projects and challenges as part of the weekly “In Focus” series. Watch the full six-minute interview at BuffaloNews.com/video.

Jedlicka: The water in Western New York is cleaner to this day because of the Clean Water Act ... [It] came at a time when the environmental movement started to take over, and environmental laws and regulations were put into place to help protect, restore and clean all of our water throughout our country.

Meyer: A lot of folks have seen some very visible signs of this. We saw a major dredging project along the Buffalo River.

Jedlicka: That is just one of many things that need to be done in order to protect our waterways. With the dredging project, that helps make progress towards the virtual elimination of toxics ... As recently as the 1960s and ’70s, the Buffalo River was actually declared dead by the federal government. You can see just by the vibrancy happening right now and the natural regeneration that has happened, there has been tremendous progress. But we’re kind of stuck ... with a legacy of industrial pollution that’s locked in the bottom of our rivers and streams. And that is what we’re trying to tackle right now.

Meyer: Your group is real big on promoting the blue economy. Tell us about that.

Jedlicka: The blue economy is not a new concept. It’s just basically using the waterfront as a driving force for economic revitalization, and putting the water first, so to speak. The water will define how our region revitalizes and how it redevelops. Everything from ecotourism, to recreation, to fisheries, to actual wastewater management, industrial processing.

Meyer: Let’s talk about RiverBend Commerce Park. What’s going on there?

Jedlicka: RiverBend is a fabulous project that’s actually hidden in South Buffalo. It’s a prime example of the blue economy in action. RiverBend is actually a former steel manufacturing facility. About 20 years ago, it underwent a remediation and that became a barren brownfield. We’ve got brownfields all over Western New York. What we’re trying to do in RiverBend, in partnership with the economic development agencies there, is, again, putting the water first – putting the river first ... We’re creating an opportunity for both human interaction with the waterways and also ecological restoration of the Buffalo River. Riverkeeper has been able to bring in literally millions of dollars right now to help reclaim that former brownfield. [We’re] about to restore the shoreline and also offer public access opportunities along the greenway.

Meyer: In another part of Buffalo, we have Hoyt Lake at Delaware Park. That’s a very widely used waterway, but one with some problems. And Scajaquada Creek is there as well.

Jedlicka: The Scajaquada is another poster child for everything that we’ve done wrong to our waterways. Hoyt Lake and Scajaquada run through some of the most amazing cultural gems in Western New York ... But Scajaquada has been abused and altered for a hundred years ... It has issues with contamination, it has issues with sewer overflows ... The litter is disgusting ... Riverkeeper is helping to bring together partners and resources to actually make the change and make the improvements.