The Scajaquada Creek Watershed encompasses 29 square miles of urbanized land throughout four municipalities: Town of Lancaster, Village of Depew, Town of Cheektowaga, and City of Buffalo.
Scajaquada Creek Information
Scajaquada Creek is a highly impaired waterway, affected by sewage overflows, urban and suburban land use, and transportation infrastructure that severs communities from the creek and from each other.
Over the last 100 years, Scajaquada Creek has become highly impaired due to land use changes, urban pollution, and other human-related disturbances. Prior to 1922, the creek emerged from a spring source in the Town of Lancaster and traveled through the undeveloped uplands and wetlands of Depew and Cheektowaga to its mouth in the City of Buffalo at the Black Rock Canal.
The City’s original source of drinking water was in fact delivered by the same groundwater springs that feed the creek today. Due to sanitation and flooding concerns, by 1922, over three miles of the creek were buried underground and permanently destroyed “waterfront” communities, including the East Side of Buffalo.
Over time, the resulting effects of sewage overflow, stormwater runoff and degraded habitat have created an unhealthy waterway for both people and wildlife. Consequently, Scajaquada Creek has a federal designation as a “source area” of contaminants to the Niagara River (Niagara River “Area of Concern”). The Great Lakes system, which includes the Niagara River, provides drinking water for nearly 40 million people, including nearly 1 million residents here in Western New York.
- Lancaster Headwaters
- Town of Cheektowaga
- Scajaquada Drain (City of Buffalo line to Forest Lawn Cemetery)
- Lower Scajaquada (Forest Lawn Cemetery to mouth at Niagara River)
Links to Scajaquada Creek Articles
Check out these articles from Buffalo Rising.
Before Us Stands the Last Chance in a Generation to Reclaim Our Creek and Community
July 22, 2021
New Environmental Law Resource Guide for Scajaquada Creek
June 23, 2021
Bring Em Down Kensington and Scajaquada Expressways Featured in the Architects Newspaper
June 14, 2021
SCC Unveils Community Inspired Vision of What is Possible for Scajaquada Creek
April 28, 2021
Restoring the Scajaquada Creek Corridor to Restore Opportunity
April 9, 2021
Reclaiming the Scajaquada Creek Corridor
April 6, 2021
Reclaiming the Scajaquada Creek Corridor
March 30, 2021
Scajaquada September: Waterkeepers and Loraxes
September 26, 2020
Scajaquada Creek and the Blue Economy
September 14, 2020
Olmstedian Scajaquada That Was and Wasn’t
December 11, 2019
Issues & Impacts on the Scajaquada Creek
Buffalo was designed with a combined sewer system. These collect stormwater runoff and sewage in the same pipe to bring to the wastewater treatment facility. To prevent back ups, the systems were also designed with outfalls to allow excess water out of the system. Due to increasing impervious surface (such as parking lots and roadways) and demand on our pipes, heavy rainstorms lead to overflows which discharge the combination of sewage and stormwater directly into waterbodies, like Scajaquada Creek.
Impacted areas: Lower Scajaquada, Scajaquada Drain
Other sewer systems, like in CheektowagaAC and Lancaster, were designed to carry stormwater runoff and sewage through separate pipes. These separated sanitary sewers can still overflow directly into waterbodies due to excess water from sump pumps and connected downspouts. This can also be caused by aging pipes that have cracks in them and take on groundwater. These types of connections to the system are not allowed, but are still in practice in homes that have not been inspected recently.
Impacted areas: Town of Cheektowaga, Lancaster Headwaters
Over the years the Scajaquada Creek has been altered to make way for urban development. Wetlands have been drained to build on the creek has been channelized, or straightened, and its path reinforced with concrete and for three distinct sections; and parts of it have been buried underground. These changes affect the ability of natural processes to maintain good water quality and provide habitat for fish and other species.
Impacted areas: All sections
The Scajaquada Expressway, Route 198 follows the creek bed from around Delaware Park through to its mouth. Pillars holding up the elevated portions and ramp connecting to I-190 are built directly into the creek bed. This poses barriers to public access as well as threatens water quality from direct runoff, salt, silt and other debris that collects on the raised highway.
Impacted areas: Lower Scajaquada
A Transformative Vision
Waterkeeper works closely with stakeholders, community groups, agencies, and the public to achieve a common vision of creek restoration and community revitalization, and advocate for state, federal, and local resources to be dedicated to Scajaquada Creek.
Waterkeeper’s vision for a restored Scajaquada Creek corridor is based upon the belief that water is the common thread which binds together community, economy, and ecology. Improvements to Scajaquada Creek channel such as naturalizing shorelines, reconnecting floodplains, and mitigating and stopping combined sewer overflows support community and economic development in adjacent neighborhoods, and help drive the region’s “Blue Economy.”
Another core component of creating a restoration vision and roadmap is planning and advocacy for large-scale infrastructure projects such as the reconfiguration and redesign of the NYS Route 198 “Scajaquada Expressway.” A thoughtful community-centric approach to the redesign of this roadway will support and enable creek and watershed restoration to not only improve water quality and habitat, but will also reconnect communities cut off from the water, and from each other.
Keeping Time on
The name Scajaquada comes from the Native American name Conjockety, or Kenjockety, who was known as the “last survivor” of the Neutral Nation that lived at Black Rock.
The mouth of Scajaquada at Black Rock was the site of America’s first Naval Shipyard, used in the War of 1812 to fight off the British invading from Canada.
Fredrick Law Olmsted designed Delaware Park, and “Gala Water,” known later as Delaware Park Lake and Hoyt Lake, by damming Scajaquada Creek.
The 1901 Pan-American Exposition was held on the shores of Scajaquada Creek and Delaware Park Lake.
As a reaction to extreme pollution that saw Scajaquada Creek being labeled a “public nuisance” , nearly four miles of Scajaquada Creek was buried at an average depth of 8 feet, to remove the problem from sight.
A national trend saw cities everywhere constructing limited access highways through neighborhoods in order to shuttle commuters from suburban locations to jobs in the City. In the 1960’s the NYS RT 198 was constructed through neighborhoods, Buffalo’s crown jewel Delaware Park, and directly on top of Scajaquada Creek.
Massive flooding driven by hydrologic modification of the creek and changing land use occurred in Scajaquada Creek in 1937, 1942, 1945, 1963, and 1967, spurring the USACOE to construct a large flood control basin in Cheektowaga.
Development in the headwaters of Scajaquada Creek increased rapidly after the construction of the flood control project, and the Galleria Mall, which straddles the creek in Cheektowaga, and further drained and diverted the remaining wetlands.