The Niagara Falls Were De-Watered by Army Corps Engineers in 1969, The Discovery Was Just Horrendous
Back in the month of June 1969, a great team of engineers wanted to check on Niagara Falls’ rock surface. Concerned that the fall’s rock flooringmight be destabilizing due to water erosion, these engineers had a portion of the dam de-watered. However colossal the task may be, against all odds, they were able to divert the flow of Niagara River away from that part, silencing a portion of the World’s 8th wonder for several months. What they found out though after drying the water flow on the area nearest to America, appalled the team of engineers to their core.
Niagara Falls is about the convergence of three great waterfalls at the international border that connects Canada and the United States of America. Altogether, they converge and give a deafening and powerful roar drawing annually a million of tourists from around the world. With the falls’ collective power and might, it is hard to imagine how it was stripped of its wild waters more than 20 years ago. Such power is not only a reminder of Mother Nature’s awesomeness but also it’s intelligence of producing electricity from it. But it’s more curious to think about what the engineers found in the deep.
What happened to Niagara Falls back in 1969 showed how good engineering can beat nature to such a degree. That moment in time was witnessed by many people as the water receded, something that was never seen before. However, what people would soon know happening underneath the water surface will not only solicit shock from watchers and followers but would empower the right authorities to consider a different treatment for the dam. What could have been something so sinister to take place at the riverbed?
History has told it over and over again, how sometimes 18,000 years ago, a time when all the land in the west was covered with ice. That land, the one we would later refer to as North America was covered by thick layers of ice sheets. But the time came when these layers of ice melted that it caused a great degree of water to flow into the river. With years and years of the relentless torrent, surrounding cliffs were affected by erosion and has created one of the world’s natural wonder we all love and dream to see up close.
Now, as Niagara Falls sits on the border of the United States and Canada, more and more people literally from all fronts visit to see the great falls. This wonder has easily been made one of the landmarks in the world. However, despite the story about how the torrent came to be, no one can exactly say when the great Niagara falls were discovered. It is safe to say that the first to witness and marvel at its great wonder was the indigenous tribes that came to settle nearby. These communities for sure slept in their homes that didn’t even need any home security.
In the early part of the 17th century, even after having knowledge already about the vast waterfalls located somewhere in his region, Samuel de Champlain, a French explorer, was not able to take a record of it. It was only in 1678 that Niagara was recorded, the credit to have done so, however, was given to the Europeans. That same year, the priest Father Louis Hennepin was able to witness the amazing wonder of Niagara Falls while he was on the expedition to what they call back then, New France.
Since the visit of Father Louis Hennepin to the great falls, he published his book entitled, A New Discovery. It took him five long years to release his recollection of his great fall experience where Father Louis described his wonderful discoveries about Niagara. It was then that Niagara was heard of, for the first time. The word came from an Iroquoian word, onguiaahra, which means “the strait. ” Now, it is widely known among the Westerners and more tourists come to see to its credits.
By the 1800s, the westerners felt the increase in railroad passengers heading to see Niagara Falls. Since then, it has never stopped developing into a tourist destination many people can come back to anytime. In no time, businesses sprung up in the area offering a wide variety of amenities to the visitors. In fact, some of them are honeymooners which is why the site of the world’s wonder has found an opportunity for hoteliers to put their investment.
At the end of the 19th century, many of the industrialists saw the full potential of the waterfalls’ torrent. With the great value on its rushing, tumbling falls, they were able to find a way for it to benefit industries like power plants and factories. In fact, Niagara Falls has been supplying electricity since 1895 via the first major facility of the hydroelectric generating station which is located just in the region.
Despite the innovative move of the power plant to produce hydroelectricity, it could only support and supply for those who are within 300 feet radius. However, with such credits to his name, Nikolas Tesla, became even more famous when he was able to find a way to produce more power that could support even as far as 20 miles away – reaching Buffalo, New York. He did so by way of alternating current.
With the discovery and use of alternating current as induction motor, Tesla did not only make history but he surpassed it by making sure that as one that marked the first system to produce energy he made it sure by still being one of those that still exists and continues to produce electricity, now, around the world. He brought his Niagara experiments to a great degree that his system is followed by many and is still the basis of many other aspirants out there. Hydroelectricity, after more than 100 years and more, is still produced by the falls and generates max. 2.4 million kilowatts.
There are two nations that are brought together by the great falls. With both sides of the US and Canada, they are able to draw in roughly about 30 million tourists annually. During Niagara Falls’ peak time, it tumbles down at a rate of 6 million cubic feet per minute, and visitors for sure get a hard time taking in how much electricity that rate produces. For sure only the engineers are able to comprehend such power and gift given by nature.
It is quite fascinating to ponder on how the water also slows down quite a degree lower at night time. But not quite so, as back in 1950, a treaty was made among local companies that allow each one of them to diver flow of water into their power plants. So, in case someone new to the region’s best practice, don’t react right away as it has been purposefully allowed and it isn’t the only time that Niagara Falls’ volume record quite a change in volume over the years.
Take for instance unexpected freezing of some water in Niagara Falls back in 2019. At that time, the tourist attraction changed in appearance, and right before the eyes of many, the cold temperature caused the torrent to freeze over in places. Even if some of the water got through to the basin, a big amount of the flow-through evaporated into the air before it got through the edge. Such incidence though isn’t new and already happened many times before and each time, experts never claimed that the flow of the rivers stopped. Regardless of the degree of temperature, the rivers keep flowing.
Many come to ask though if there was ever a time since that the Niagara Falls ever stopped flowing. The answer is yes, a part of did. But before we delve into the details of it, it is very important to know that the great falls are technically a landmark where three separate waterfalls actually meet. It consists of the Horseshoe Falls which is the stretch of the border of the US and Canada, and the two other which are situated or is based on US soil solely: the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls. All three of them combined produces a rush and tumble of water that is strong enough to generate massive electricity across the nations.
Like all other natural wonders out there whereby we humans tend to maintain as it has brought so much blessing to our communities, the same is true for Niagara Falls. With the livelihood that it has blessed many and the wonder it provided a million more others, citizens of nearby cities or states got concerned about how it is likely that such nature’s gift might lose its charm. So in 1965, after the considerable amount of talus (rocks) that have been found accumulating at the base of the waterfall has caused a degree of worry upon the authorities and concerned citizens that they were empowered to do something about it. See, the talus was preventing water from descending in a sheer drop which affects the appeal of the American Falls.
Citizen and affected bodies concerned also caught the attention of journalist Cliff Spieler who published at the front of Niagara Falls Gazettenewspaper issued on January 31, 1965, an article which highlights the issue of continuous erosion might eventually affect and eradicate the American Falls altogether. Since that issue, it has caused so much worry among the citizens that a campaign started, which for sure was headed by environment lawyers, appealing to the government to have the great falls checked and come up with a solution.
With the aim to face the issue head-on, the American and Canadian authorities looked for assistance from the organization that oversees regulations over the shared waters by both nations. This organization is called, International Joint Commission (IJC). Experts by this time have long been busy in analyzing the situation, like a finance officer would a credit report, and finding answers that would address all possible concerns. So another group launched a temporary operation target to eliminate any detritus from the waters above the falls.
As this initiative move became a sure thing to do at the moment, they focused all efforts on deflecting the water flow over American Falls. On November 13, 1966, they started on their intelligent plan while the International Water Control Dam remained open to a great degree to welcome in all the water current in as well as hydroelectricity stations are upped to full capacity. All these were allowed while the group creates another flow for the American Falls.
The set of plans used credits to the reduced amount of water flow of the river which produced 45,000 gallons less per second already. The drop in production to 15,000 gallons per second paved the way for the team to get to work. As many watched the water recede over that side of Niagara Falls, workmen were sent over to wade out and clear away any debris they see. Also, the US Army Corps of Engineers or USACE, in the meantime, had their officials take the opportunity to look into the river bed and see for themselves the degree of damage done, if there is, due to the constant torrent over the years.
Focused more to come up with a much long-term plan to protect the American Falls, the team from USACE made sure to snap aerial shots of the scene. However, this plan only lasts for a few hours before it all went back to normal. The diversion they started only held up for six hours, after which, the diversions were closed again and the flow of the river once again returned to its usual pace and volume. However, the short exercise laid the groundwork for a more grandeur plan of operation that will finally address whatever degree of damage taken up close on the riverbed. Thought the plan may be an ambitious one. But it is worth the pursuit as so much is at stake if solutions are not made back then.
Finally, after two years of campaigning to save the American Falls, the movement has found a sod grip on many citizens and organizations who partnered to make it happen. Soon after, the American Falls International Board was organized, and it was then that the Board realized just how vast the degree of work would be if they were to pursue their aim to solve the erosion problem. They knew there were no other ways but to dewater the falls. The Board also knew that it was a task only for a great team of professionals and experts to do.
With such a great work to do, the task had to be undertaken only by the real experts and professionals fit for the job. So USACE, with their group of engineers, set to plan the work to be done. Other than the extensive work to be done, there’s also a big amount of investment put into the project that they have to consider. So ultimately, the plan had to work effectively and efficiently for all. Since the 1966 approach succeeded with a good result of reducing water flow to the American Falls to 25 percent, a more forceful action had to be made. Hence, the ploy to create a temporary structure they call, cofferdam.
Dams are typically built within bodies of water, usually in lakes, where a certain area needs to be dried out. As in the case of Niagara River, they constructed the cofferdam in the form of a 600-foot barrier that positions across the current. It is quite a feat that has never been done before or at least not such a degree.
A construction firm to partner with USACE is Alberta Elia Construction Company and their partnership has a half a million dollars’ worth of investment contract between the two organizations. The construction fee’s equivalent fee is $4 million of today’s money in exchange for the big task of building the cofferdam. Later on, you’ll realize that they’re not only responsible for drying out the falls, but also with more specific tasks.
The Alberta Elia Construction Company is also charged with the scouring of the exposed riverbed. Also, their team of workers is to take out boulders that were too loose and to install a sprinkler system on the dewatered area. This a system USACE devised to provide the rocks the moisture they need while the team is studying the condition and the degree of damage underneath the river.
After meticulous planning, the construction company began its build. It was on June 9, 1969, when finally the operation of constructing the dam started. However, just when they were starting their work, they perceived the difficulty of working across the torrent. They realized how extremely dangerous it is for their workforce to operate in a situation where there exists a peril of falling into the water while on duty. If there wouldn’t be at least a line of defense for a fallen worker to could grab on to stop him from falling over the edge of the falls, imagine how hard it would be to answer to insurance companiesabout such operation. So, in anticipation of something of the like might happen, they installed a lifeline between Goat Island and the mainland. That way, workers may have some means of escape or safety net in case they fall off while in operation.
It is such a good practice of this construction company to set up such safety precautions for their men at work. The lifeline set up was intended to provide a line of escape or rescue for those who accidentally fall off and plummet down the river. It works as something to grab on to before they fall over the edge of the falls. Fortunately, in all the days and weeks they worked, there was not a record of an accident that went to such a degree. So operation went smoothly that even for just a short span of three days, the dam began to take form.
Even before they even started to build the dam, they already knew how it wasn’t a simple task. The whole construction took over 1,200 trucks to carry many loads of soil and rocks to be dumped upstream the American Falls just before the cataract. A great degree of work has been done by transferring such massive tons of materials to the site. In fact, a total of almost 28,000 tons of soil and rocks have been moved and dumped upstream.
It was on June 12, 1969, when the task was finally completed. At last, the workmen were able to bridge the remaining gap in the cofferdam that stretches from the mainland to Goat Island. What seemed impossible to many finally has been successfully reached, and we give the credits to excellent engineering and taskforce for making that happen. For the first time, for probably more than 12,000 years, that the American Falls had been its driest ever since.
With such impressive work done, something that has never been done before, many people put in the effort to watch it happen. They knew that it was a feat that would go down history. However, some locals fret that forcing the water flow to stop on that area would impact the region’s tourism that it would probably hard to come around again. The Local’s concern is valid, as many had put in their investments on local businesses. A five million count of annual visitors is, after all, quite a number that boosts the local economy so much every year. But several others saw good value on the opportunity to know what could be underneath the raging river flow.
True to the locals’ economic fear, the year 1969 hasn’t been a good year for business due to a significant drop in the number of visitors that came to visit the region after the falls had been dried up. However, for the tourists who pushed through, they were greatly rewarded with such a spectacular view. While some were lucky to scoop up souvenirs of coins, some of which were of foreign countries, perfect addition their coin collection. See, as the water flow was diverted, coins thrown by the previous visitors began showing up, and that year’s batch had a great time picking them up. It is indeed quite a treasure hunting activity credited to the work up ahead.
Some reports stated how visitors flock in to see USACE successfully blocked the falls. Some visitors arrived days before while some much later, but there were those-the the braver ones who came down to step into the riverbed. While most of them, at the scene, admired the sight of the cofferdam, marveling at the massive work done to achieve such a remarkable job done. Of course, a great credit was given to USACE for making it all possible.
So while the buzz of wonder and excitement was still contagious in the atmosphere, some were unprepared for the gruesome revelation of what was under the raging water flow of the American Falls. The very next day after the final plug, two visitors spotted human remains. There’s a lifeless body of a man and a woman found at the falls’ riverbed. Many were shocked by such discovery. The sight was horrendous, sending electricity of fright and chills to the bone. Who would think to continue to marvel and be horrified next by these discoveries?
According to reports, the deceased male’s body was one the police were looking for as it was the body of the reported incident of a man who jumped off the American Falls the day before the waters ran dry. It was put on record also that there were people who witnessed the incident, which they only thought he was just one of the workers or men in the operation. They knew something was not right when they saw the young man plunged into the current. They knew that with the degree of the fall, he wouldn’t have made it. The remains of the young man matched the onlooker’s description of the man they saw who jumped off into the waters and was wearing the green pants and hued shirt similarly.
This man’s leap off into the channel cannot be more impeccable for the authorities. They need not wait long for them to recover his body as they only waited till the next day and there his body was at the riverbed. The very next day after the successful completion of the cofferdam, four policemen went down to search through the dry riverbed for human remains of reported cases. However, even with the bodies found, unfortunately, they don’t have any clue who they were, there were no identifications cards with them as well to give them at least some information. Not even a credit scorecard to check.
As police officers continued to scour the riverbed, they also found a woman’s remains, which appeared to who have already been decaying. It seemed that the woman had been down under the water for quite a while. The woman’s remains were found in a striped garment of red and white. As the young man found earlier, she, too, had no name. She has no identification that would at least give any information about her. Or anything in her that would lead authorities to know anything about her cause of death. Even if it was only a tiny piece of evidence pointing to any information, a link to a loan she was probably escaping. Now, big questions are being asked, how did they come to this? Why did they jump off?
As bodies were successfully recovered, the authorities ordered run an autopsy so that there would at least be answers about the cause of their mystery death. However, even with the autopsy report, there would be no information about their identity would be indicated most, especially for the woman whose face is hardly recognizable already. However, it was found out that the woman wore a wedding band with an inscription on the side that says, “Forget me not.” Their ring must’ve have been quite an investment for them to include such beautiful inscription.
While that eventful day turned out to be a horrendous day for onlookers, unfortunately, those two deaths aren’t just the cases of death in Niagara Falls. It has been told that many lives ended in that place of wonder and that the authorities were more surprised that only two remains turned up. According to officers, the deadly incidents in this tourist spot ranges up to 40 deaths every year. They said that most of the deaths were due to the wilful act of suicide, while some were results of accidents. But there were also who were fools to think they’d survive the current, as others took credit.
Reports credits a collection of incidents since 1829, that there have been some daredevils who braved a plunge lived to survive, however, most didn’t. But those who made it out the wild rivers successfully never dared to try it again and discouraged anyone who’d try it as such daring move contributed to the annual deaths.
Famous for such an attempt was Annie Edson Taylor, who in 1901 dared to plunge and survived. Taylor was a 63-year-old teacher back then when she dared to do it. According to recounts of her stunt, she was in a wooden barrel, which could have been the very thing that helped her survived the ordeal unscathed. When she was finally in safety away from the raging waters, she reportedly exclaimed, “No one ought ever to do that again.” Even with the varying degrees of success & survival from falling off the great Niagara Falls, no one really has taken Taylor’s advice.
Take, for example, some later accounts about The Niagara Falls attempts after Taylor, however successful for the Canadian stuntman, Karel Soucek. He was able to survive his trip over the cascade of the great waterfalls in a barrel also. How unfortunate, though, that he failed his other attempt as he relived the same stunt the year after at the Houston Astrodome in Texas. Another account happened in 1990 when Jesse Sharp, an American, attempted to beat the current with just a canoe. Report credits had it that he was never seen again since that day.
The riverbed discovery was an evident reminder of the degree of destructive power the waters of Niagara can do for those watching the draining of the American Falls. Anyhow, for the authorities and those directly involved in the project, it was business as usual. The remains were taken out, and the whole operation continued as planned. The next step for the workforce was to find loose rocks and get rid of them. Mostly they were located at the by the waterfall.
The workforce did so by putting workers in cages and lifted by cranes as they dangled over the lip of the falls to find and pick up the loose rocks. At the same time, the engineers adopted a sprinkler system to moisten the layer as leaving rocks to dry out, making them more vulnerable to erosion. A project this massive requires a great deal of wisdom and effectivity while at the planning stage, a feat USACE is given credit.
At the top of the American Falls, there’s another team of workers set to drill into the riverbed. After the team reaches the 180-foot point, a test will run to check the absorbency of the rock. Simultaneously, a group of surveyors took the opportunity to chart the contours of the American Falls. In every operation phase, you can see various teams working on different assignments, proving how efficient the whole plan is. Soon, the entire community will be back on business and with better investments on the way.
Over the days, improvements to the whole project took form. While geological surveys were ongoing, another construction started. One of the progressions they’ve built was a walkway for visitors that will allow them to stroll safely along the riverbed. They opened the pathway to the public on August 1, 1969. Although the structure became popular, the significant decrease of visitors in the area was still the primary concern, especially by people in business who’ve made significant investments in the area.
One of the concerns of USACE was the discovery of talus deposits at the foot of the falls. So on August 19, they began their study and research about it. They drilled holes into the rocks hoping to find out more about the talus formation. The more they do so, it dawned on them that the clean-up operation they were aiming for may not be as simple as they’ve planned. It’s a good thing that the engineering team is quick to decide on the matter and able to adjust their strategies. They truly live up to the credits they are already gaining in this massive project for their expertise.
The engineers tasked to study the rocks underneath the waters of the American Falls concluded that the talus formation at the foot of the falls became vital to support the cliff face. So with a great matter to decide on, they presented the facts to the authorities who then gave the signal for an alternative plan. It seemed just about the time that a dam is constructed permanently so that the debris would submerge into the basin. However, the amount of investment it would entail; it seemed to be the right thing to build and finally help the community get back to normal.
The engineers’ dilemma in the solution of constructing a permanent dam, however, is how it would significantly weaken the American falls. As a result, the authorities finally decided to leave things as they were underneath the American Falls. Despite their decision, though, the operation wasn’t in vain because the researchers were able to use it as an opportunity for them to perform conservation work that is vital for the cliff’s face. This breakthrough in the community is still to this team’s credit.
For six months, various teams worked around the area of operation to stabilize the American Falls. Some worked with anchors, bolts, and cables to create sensors that will serve as an alert to authorities if a landslide is approaching. At this point, yet again, shows how sound engineering can outwit nature. Of course, proper credits should be given to whom it belongs. The work they’ve done here still had a significant impact on conserving the waterfall for the next generations.
Finally, in November 1969, all the work needed for the American Falls were carried out. At that time, the IJC felt confident knowing that they were able to take measures to preserve the natural wonderment of the waterfalls rather than turn it into something artificial. Part of the clearing of their operation was destroying the cofferdam, which they did use dynamite. Finally, the American Falls was restored back to its former glory. The whole project and the degree of work involved were massive and greater than life. But it was all worth it.
Ironically, Niagara Falls 1969 comparison to the one discovered by European explorers centuries ago, was very different. Indeed, the earlier industries had taken a toll on the natural wonder. In fact, conservation efforts were already set in motion even back in the 1800s. However, the businesses that depended on the power of the torrent only relocated downstream. Nature’s drawback is likely to be credited to industries’ exploitation of them.
Fast forward to the 20th century, a large amount of water is diverted to produce electricity for several establishments, thus diminishing further the cascades of Niagara waters, causing it to lose its natural wonder through its power torrent. Authorities, now, are faced with a debate of how best to balance industry with conservation.
In defense of charges against them, industrialists debate how their power plants producing electricity are helping to conserve the natural resource and wonder by regulating the amount of water pouring at the lip of the falls, hence, delaying the occurrence of rock erosion. Typically, erosion occurs at a rate of four and a half feet per year, a rate the power plants believe they can help prevent. This impending issue lingers on and is yet to be addressed.
Ultimately, the United States and Canada, encourage industrial activity in their regions, despite the drawbacks it has on nature’s natural stream. So both nations reached an agreement and a solution they would follow to keep the balance in their area’s economy and without also cutting off the electricity-producing plants nearby. How would they keep this balance without a noticeable impact on the famous attraction? You might ask.
Canada and the U.S. arrived at an agreed, innovative solution that will help maintain tourism and business activity at both ends and industrial activities. The answer is to divert 75 percent of Niagara Falls every evening and during winter to industrial works. While At peak times, 50 percent of their allocation is kept back for the visitors to marvel the nature’s mighty torrent. In the long run, experts called in to create re-create illusions of the powerful flow down at the lip of the famous Horseshoe Falls. This move became successful and has kept all business investments flowing too.
Up until today, these diversions are still in place and operation. That is to say that the tourists only see a fraction of the waters meant for Niagara Falls. Despite that, the torrent remains to be one of the world’s wonders and popular tourist attractions in Canada and the U.S. Also, soon, the visitors may take part in witnessing yet another operation underway of discovering what might be hiding underneath the waterfall. For sure many are not curious about the plans people and teams in credit are not devising.
Once again, a plan to dry out the American Falls had been announced by the Niagara Frontier State Park Commission in 2016. The move was decided on because of the state of the two stone bridges built to connect the mainland and Goat Island. The two stone bridges are now beyond repair and restoration since 2005. Also, this plan will open the opportunity to check on the riverbed and make further study and analysis of those drawn in 1969. There might also be probable innovations to create and construct with a high degree of impact not only to the generations to come but even in these times we are living.
The commission mentioned that a barrier is set to be built for the engineers to build the bridges again. This barrier is designed to stop the water from flowing down to the falls. Thus, yet still, a cofferdam is to be built. The authorities have set it to be in 2019 following a target investment money of $30 million. However, this was postponed due to the failure to produce such funds.
Once the target fund is hit, with proper money management, the authorities believe that the project will run smoothly and according to plan. They are also positive that through social media as a means to promote this current move to dewater, the American Falls will be more successful in terms of tourism than the previous attempt. Despite the postponement in 2019, the officials claim that the project is still very much on the cards. With the unknown number of people missing and already presumed dead in the area since 1969, the falls might yet again have some horrendous secrets to reveal.