Skip to main content
The PBS on-demand streaming service, WNED PBS Passport, is available in Canada! Learn More
If Our Water Could Talk
Project Introduction


After decades of stalled efforts and missed opportunities, Buffalo’s historic waterfront is becoming the heart of a downtown renaissance. People are going to concerts, playing ice hockey, walking the Canalside boardwalk, and returning to the water in kayaks and tour boats. People are even touring and climbing Buffalo’s iconic grain elevators.

Few cities in America have the rich waterfront heritage of Buffalo. It was access to water that built Western New York into an economic and industrial powerhouse from the early 19th century through the mid-20th century. During that time Buffalo was a major railroad hub, the largest grain port in the world, and a major steel producer.

But that industrial prosperity left Western New York with a legacy of neglected and polluted waterways. By the late 1960s the Buffalo River was one of the most polluted rivers in North America. In 1968 the river was so polluted it even caught fire. Around the same time, Lake Erie was famously declared dead. That period serves as a benchmark for the severity of post-industrial pollution and the relative indifference to its consequences.

But in the 40 years since that time, there has been remarkable progress. Water quality in Lake Erie and the Buffalo River has significantly improved. And while there is much more to be done, water is once again creating opportunities for the region.

If Our Water Could Talk is Buffalo Toronto Public Media’s multimedia project to create a public discussion about water. The television, radio, education and web components tell the past, present and future of the region’s water resources. Buffalo Toronto Public Media will continue to focus attention and reporting on the issues and opportunities of the water and waterfront.

We are pleased to be joined in this effort by Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, who collaborated with Buffalo Toronto Public Media on the education and outreach components of the project. Riverkeeper’s mission is to protect and restore the quality and quantity of our water while connecting people to the water.

Through this collective effort we are hoping to encourage community dialogue and engagement in the future planning for use of our water resources and to hopefully continue to listen to the water was we move forward.

Funding forIf Our Water Could Talkis provided by HSBC and Honeywell. With additional funding from The Joy Family Foundation, Lawley Insurance and The Baird Foundation.