The History of Buffalo Sewer

As the City of Buffalo developed initially, the Niagara River was used as an economical and convenient means of disposal for the community’s sewage.  As the city continued to grow, a sewer system was gradually constructed to carry combined sewage and stormwater to the Buffalo River, Scajaquada Creek, and Black Rock Canal.  Untreated sewage was discharged directly into these water bodies at several points throughout the city.  As Buffalo grew, so did the volume and concentration of sewage discharged to the receiving water bodies.  The health of the receiving water bodies and the surrounding environment became severely threatened.

In 1935 the New York Health Department mandated the City of Buffalo to discontinue without delay the menacing nuisance of pollution of the River waters. Persistent pollution and disease as well as treaties between the United States and Canada (Boundary Waters Treaty) lead to a reassessment of the means by which not only Buffalo, but many cities on the border’s waters, disposed of sanitary wastewater.  The Niagara River was specifically named as among the most important of the boundary waters.

Buffalo Sewer, a public benefit corporation, was created by an Act of the Legislature in the spring of 1935 and delegated the responsibility for providing an effectual means of relieving the Niagara River and other tributary streams from pollution by sewage and waste. Buffalo Sewer was authorized to borrow money, issue bonds and provide for their repayment, fix and collect rates and rentals, and in general assume full-responsibility for carrying out the State Health Department’s mandate.

Buffalo Sewer accepted and fulfilled its responsibility in full conformity with the intent and spirit of the mandate. It provided a system of intercepting sewers to bring sewage of the city to a then modern (1938) and efficient primary sewage treatment plant where solid matter was removed and incinerated, and all liquid matter chlorinated. With respect to the collection system, the City of Buffalo constructed a then state of the art combined sewer system that collected and transmitted sanitary and stormwater within a single pipe system.  By design, the combined system was constructed with a number of overflow points, referred to as combined sewer overflows or CSOs which relieved the system during rainfall events when the large amounts of water (stormwater primarily) could have damaged the treatment plant and private property.  For decades following its construction, the system served the city and surrounding suburbs well and continues to do so today.

However, with the increasing national awareness of the need to more fully protect our water resources, the State in 1966 directed further improvement of the facilities by providing secondary treatment. With the help of federal and state grants, secondary treatment facilities were constructed and placed in service in 1981. Throughout these improvements, the collection system continued to operate adequately with few improvements.

In the early 1990s the regulatory focus shifted from the treatment facilities to the collection systems.  Not only in Buffalo but across the United States, emphasis was now being placed on the impacts of sewer overflows and on their reduction.  In addition, Buffalo Sewer recognized the general inadequacy of the storm water capabilities of the existing combined sewer system of the city and prepared a comprehensive plan for the enlargement and betterment of the stormwater overflow system. It has since been engaged in the construction of sewers according to this plan and has eliminated many areas of formerly prevalent basement and surface flooding, as well as a number of the designed CSOs. Over time the need for continued reduction in the CSO events and volumes has been recognized by the regulatory agencies as well as Buffalo Sewer, and for some years now all new construction has been planned, whenever possible, to achieve this result or concept.

While much remains to be done, Buffalo Sewer is progressing toward having a high level of protection against such undesirable occurrences and at the same time doing its share in the fight against water pollution.

Buffalo Waterfront

1909 a treaty was entered into by the United States and Canada specifically providing that the waters herein defined as boundary waters flowing across the boundary shall not be polluted


Bird or Unity Island was named for its small marshy creek that once ran through the property dividing the island into two segments.


In 1981 secondary treatment facilities were constructed with the help of federal and state grants.