Sometime in the next five to seven years, the American side of Niagara Falls will be turned to just a trickle to allow construction workers to replace two bridges near the Falls. New York State Officials voted on Wednesday to go forward with a plan to temporarily redirect water flowing over Niagara Falls. To better understand the project, it’s important to note that there are actually three distinct waterfalls that, when combined, make up Niagara Falls. On the Canadian side, there is Horseshoe Falls, a 165-foot waterfall that accounts for about 85% of the water that flows over Niagara Falls. On the American side, there are two smaller waterfalls known as the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls.
For this project, the water flowing over the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls will be redirected towards the Canadian side to flow over the Horseshoe Falls. Redirecting the water will allow crews to replace the two bridges that connect to Goat Island, an island in between the Horseshoe Falls and the American Falls.
Initially, the plan was supposed to go into effect within the next three years but limited funds have pushed the project back closer to 2021. The project is anticipated to cost $27 million while $3 million of that is dedicated towards redirecting the water to allow crews to work on the bridges. In order to redirect the water, engineers will construct a cofferdam, a type of dam that is temporarily used to enclose part of a body of water.
This isn’t the first time that the Niagara Falls has been “turned off.” In 1969, engineers redirected the flow of the water in order to study the effects of erosion on the rocks underneath Niagara Falls. All in all, the Falls were only dry for about five months before the water flow was returned back to normal.
While it’s still not clear exactly how long the flow of Niagara Falls will be interrupted, officials speculate that it will be no longer than nine months. If construction crews build the supports to the bridge and then complete the upper structures at a later date, Niagara Falls will only be affected for five months. If officials decide to completely rebuild the bridges from start to finish while the water is redirected, the project would be completed in a span of about nine months.
While the Falls are “turned off”, New York officials expect a large boost in tourists to the area. In 1969, thousands of tourists came out to see the dam installed and see water stop flowing to the falls. Even more tourists came out when the dam was removed and water began flowing to the falls. New York officials are anticipating high tourist numbers during those times and also during all times when the water is not flowing. As one New York official said, “It’s a once in a lifetime chance. People want to see it.”