Jill Jedlicka is the Executive Director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper:
Our water defined our region’s history, and it will define our future. Now a nationally recognized success story utilizing unique and impactful partnerships, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper has established a new platform for our region – one that is helping drive economic revitalization through restoration of the health and integrity of WNY’s fresh water systems.
Regional economic development planning efforts, combined with the public and private investments now taking hold, have given this community much to celebrate. Educational institutions, medical and health care industries, hotels and lofts are great for the region but do not make us unique. One piece of the economic revitalization puzzle that is underrepresented in the economic planning for our future is the role of WNY’s Blue Economy.
WNY’s Blue Economy is more than a catchy phrase, and is responsible for “the other billion” of active investment in our region. For example, the Niagara River Greenway implementation is $450 million; regional sewer infrastructure improvements will hit nearly $300 million; toxic river sediment, brownfield clean-ups and ecosystem restoration already exceed $100 million, and commercial shipping supports $50 million in local business every year. Add to these the economic impact of other water-based businesses and regional tourism.
What is even more intriguing to this story is the significant role that non-profits and community-based organizations can play by looking beyond fresh water as a commodity, and not identifying the ubiquitous “waterfront” as just another natural asset to be developed. The blue economy approach has already been proven successful, as evident in the major restoration of the Buffalo River. Riverkeeper
incurred organizational risk and utilized an entrepreneurial approach and diverse partnerships to help bring millions of dollars for our region’s waterways. We have brought jobs to WNY and established a clean and viable foundation for transforming our waterfront.
Clean water is a vital asset and one whose value will increase as global climates change. On any given day, our local water resources support recreation, eco-tourism, fish and wildlife, manufacturing, waste processing, power generation, trans-shipment, and provide drinking water to nearly one million people. With the anticipated increase use and desirability of our local water resources, Riverkeeper is working with local residents and community leaders to establish plans to invite sustainable and non-polluting industries into our community.
Advocating for WNY’s Blue Economy is simple, and Riverkeeper has established Five Guiding Principles:
1) Water is a driver of regional economic revitalization.
2) Prioritize increased public access and open space protection.
3) Green Infrastructure is part of the solution to our sewage problem.
4) Establish the Niagara River Greenway as an international spotlight.
5) Utilize the power of public, private and non-profit partnerships.
Economic investments wax and wane, but the water will always be here. Let’s work to ensure a sustainable blue economy for the next generation of Western New Yorkers.
Jill Jedlicka is the Executive Director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, a local non-profit dedicated to the protection of our water quality and quantity and public access to our region’s waterways.