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Cattaraugus Creek is a stream, approximately 68 miles (109 km) long, in western New York in the United States. The creek drains a wooded rural portion of western New York southwest of Buffalo into Lake Erie. In its lower course it flows primarily through the Cattaraugus Reservation of the Seneca tribe. The word "Cattaraugus" means "foul-smelling river bank." This name is a result of the natural gas that oozes from the river mud.
The creek rises in Java Lake in Wyoming County. In the Village of Arcade it joins Clear Creek. As it flows westward out of Wyoming County to the hamlet of Yorkshire, the creek forms the boundary between the south part of Erie County and the northern borders of Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties.
A tributary known as the "South Branch of the Cattaraugus Creek" originates in Cattaraugus, New York and flows northwest to the main Cattaraugus Creek along the Persia-Otto town line, joining the main creek just east of the village of Gowanda.
It flows through the Village of Gowanda, which straddles the creek and is thereby in two counties. To the east of Gowanda, the Cattaraugus Creek passes through the Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area. This conservation zone is a favorite recreation area for fishing and rafting. Along its lower course it flows past the hamlet of Versailles, on the south bank of the creek in Cattaraugus Reservation. It flows into Lake Erie by Sunset Bay in the Town of Hanover in Chautauqua County.
Each year around October to November, thousands of fishermen descend on the lower course of Cattaraugus Creek to take advantage of the annual steelhead trout runs.
Although almost all of the high level nuclear waste has been removed according to the Department of Energy , nuclear and hazardous wastes are still buried in unlined trenches on two sites at a former privately operated nuclear fuels reprocessing facility alongside Cattaraugus Creek north of the village of West Valley in Cattaraugus County. The U.S. Dept. of Energy's Demonstration Project at the site transferred high-level nuclear waste into glass canisters.
Reprocessing of spent fuel rods from military and civilian nuclear power plants between 1966 and 1972 resulted in burial of low-level radioactive waste (LLNW) on 22 acres (89,000 m2) and burial of high-level radioactive waste on another 7 acres (28,000 m2).
The facility, closed in 1972, was begun in 1961 by Nuclear Fuel Services (NFS), a subsidiary of W.R. Grace & Co. (the focus of the book and film, "A Civil Action") and American Machine & Foundry, on 3,345 acres (13.54 km2) of land leased from the State of New York. The Atomic Energy Commission reported in 1966 that 5 million US gallons (19,000 m3) of liquid radioactive wastes were discharged into on-site streams and Cattaraugus Creek, into which on-site streams flow.
These activities were authorized by the State of New York, title owner of the entire site through its agency New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), successor to the Atomic Energy Commission. NYSERDA holds a license from the NRC, which has ultimate jurisdiction over high-level nuclear wastes.
Getty Oil took over the site in the 1970s and continued receiving nuclear fuel rods and dumping nuclear waste until 1976 when, after numerous releases to the ground and atmosphere, public concern over contamination led the DEC to withdraw its permit for discharges into Buttermilk Creek. This, together with more stringent federal regulations and greater economic competition for nuclear waste disposal led NFS to shut the plant down. New York State was left holding the property.
Although cleanup of some high-level nuclear wastes has begun, regarding LLNW the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has said, "There is no intent to recover the wastes once they are buried." One question this poses is under what conditions may high-level nuclear wastes, once processed to remove a certain quantity of materials or to dilute those materials,be reclassified as "LLNW?"