What Niagara Falls Looks Like Without Water

In the summer of 1969, engineers stopped the flow of water to the American and Bridal Veil Falls. 
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American Falls without water in 1969 (Robin Adair)

This week, we were treated to some beautiful images of Niagara Falls mostly iced over, thanks to the Polar Vortex. This happens somewhat regularly, but it's gorgeous nonetheless.

What you see in this post is a much rare occurrence: the dewatering of one part of Niagara Falls, which occurred in the summer of 1969 and continued into the late fall.

To understand these images, it helps to know a couple things. There are three sets of waterfalls at Niagara Falls: American and Bridal Veil Falls on one side of Goat Island and the larger Horseshoe Falls on the other. The dewatering project only stopped water flowing to American and Bridal Veil Falls. And the vast majority of the water actually goes over Horseshoe.

Here's a map:

Still, it was a massive project. Engineers built a 600-foot cofferdam from the American shoreline out to Goat Island using 28,000 tons of earth and rock. They did it to investigate the geology of the falls, which had seen very substantial rockfalls, leading to a buildup of boulders and debris at the base of the falls. Ultimately, after a lot of public debate, the International Joint Commission, which manages the falls, decided not to change the falls, and the dam was removed on November 25, 1969.

The photograph was sent in by reader Marcia Adair from her parents' collection.

This is what American falls  looks like under more normal conditions, thanks to Flickr user Ian Glover

There are several other views available of the dewatered American Falls at the Niagara Falls public library website. The turned-off falls were quite a tourist attraction that summer. What a weird time to be in America. 

Rock at the base of the falls (Niagara Falls Public Library)
The view from Talus Point (Niagara Falls Public Library)
Cofferdam construction (Niagara Falls Public Library)

 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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