Congressman Brian Higgins was joined Friday by researchers from the Buffalo State Great Lakes Center to announce funding from New York Sea Grant to support an innovative study intended to identify the source impacting water quality in the area around Gallagher Pier on Buffalo's Outer Harbor.
"There is great public demand to make Gallagher Beach a full swimming beach," Higgins said. "Although it is closed to swimming today, we don't need to sit back and simply accept that as the long-term fate for Gallagher Beach. Through new, advanced research led by the Great Lakes Center and supported by a New York Sea Grant, we hope to isolate the problem-area, an essential first step in correcting the situation and eventually giving the public the full-functioning beach they are drawn to."
Along Buffalo's Outer Harbor sits Gallagher Pier and beach-area, a 1,400-foot-long Lake Erie shoreline property included within Buffalo Harbor State Park. The spot is frequented by wind surfers, kayakers and sunbathers, but is currently restricted from use as a swimming beach due to bacteria levels.
The Great Lakes Center, an institute of SUNY Buffalo State researchers and educators dedicated to investigating the ecology of the Great Lakes and their tributaries, was awarded $11,911 New York Sea Grant for the Gallagher Pier water study. Biology faculty members Gary Pettibone, professor, and Amy McMillan, associate professor, will collaborate with the Great Lakes Center as principal investigators on the project.
Buffalo State President Katherine Conway-Turner said, "We are proud to partner with Congressman Higgins and NY Sea Grant on this important project. Congressman Higgins, our proud alum, should be applauded for his years of focused and sustained efforts toward restoring Buffalo's wonderful waterfront. As an anchor institution in the City of Buffalo, our scientists, faculty and associates at the Great Lakes Center are dedicated stewards of Lake Erie and its watersheds."
Beach closings due to bacteria counts are common during the summer at Western New York beaches. Storm and sewer overflow sources often lead to higher bacteria counts in local waterways. Water testing in 2013 and 2014 found E.coli levels in the water around Gallagher Pier to be above allowable limits, which prompted the state to close the beach to swimming.
Great Lakes Center researchers will use recently developed culture-independent molecular analyses to compare the genetic signatures of bacteria from selected samples of water near Gallagher Pier to potential point-sources for pollution. The two sites under investigation are a storm drain located 600 feet south of Gallagher Beach and a ring-billed gull nesting colony site 3,800 feet southwest of the beach.
Through next-generation sequencing, researchers will compare and match the gene sequences to identify the source leading to bacterial contamination at Gallagher Pier. Identification of the source will allow for future corrective action at a targeted site, toward the goal of reducing bacteria and making Gallagher Beach swimmable.
New York Sea Grant Director William Wise said, "Coastal cities across the country are aggressively expanding water-based recreational opportunities for their citizens. New York Sea Grant is pleased to support this important research by scientists from Buffalo State to determine the source of water quality impairment in the park's Gallagher Pier area. Documenting this source is a necessary first step in any effort to abate the impairment and make these waters safe and swimmable, for Buffalonians to fully enjoy."
The New York Sea Grant program supports research and education efforts that promote economic and environmental initiatives along New York waterways through federal and state matching funds.
Higgins has long advocated for a sand and swimming beach at Gallagher Beach.
The site became the first waterfront development project in Western New York when, in 2003, then-Assemblyman Brian Higgins, pushed for and won the start of a $4 million boardwalk and improvement project along Gallagher Beach. In recent years, an additional $1.4 million in federal funding supported the creation of a pavilion and picnic area, as well as improvements to the boardwalk at Gallagher Pier.