The 1960's was a time of free love, social justice, experimentation and cultural explosion. For Upstate New York, the summer of 1969 will always be remembered for the disaster that was the Woodstock Music Festival. However, just a few short hours north of that mud pit, another iconic even was making history.
Over 40 years ago, U.S. engineers diverted the flow of the Niagara River away from the American side for several months. In 2010, these previously unreleased photos were made public.
With yet another Niagara Falls diversion coming in the near future, let's revisit this momentous feat of engineering back in the "swinging sixties." It's not going to be all dead bodies and coins though. Scientists sought out to study the riverbed underneath the falls in hopes to slow down the erosion that was escalating on the American side of the falls.
You always knew Niagara Falls as a consistent flow of power, rushing water but these pictures will reveal a new side to the falls you've never seen before.
For those that don't know, the American Falls is just one of three falls that make up Niagara Falls. It was this segment of the worldly wonder that engineers focused on. When the waters were valiantly rushing, spectators never saw the troublesome pile of rubble building up beneath the falls. That was just one of the reasons they decided to slow the flow of the American Falls. If you look closely above, you can see the temporary dam built to stop the water from the Niagara River.
Over the years, natural rock slides became an increasingly common occurrence on the American Falls. Seeing as erosion is a natural attribute of nature, many don't see the problem with it. However, engineers decided that continued erosion at this rate would lead to the permanent destruction of the falls. So, a commission of both American and Canadian officials teamed up and made a decision. For five months, the falls were to be "de-watered" for repairs.
As you can imagine, draining out a waterfall of this magnitude was no easy task. It took a couple of trucks to do the job. More accurately, it took 1,200 trucks over three days to dump 28,000 tons of fill onto an area of the falls upstream. This new homemade dam stretched 600ft across the Niagara river.
Now, why do tyou ask? Well, this was the easiest solution to divert the 60,000 gallons of water that flowed over the falls every second. So instead, the water was diverted to the nearby Horseshoe Falls. From there, the US Army and their team of highly trained engineers took over the project to investigate.
Niagara Falls is famous for a whole wealth of reasons. One could even say it's infamous for a few reasons as well. Unfortunately, a lot of people fell to their deaths at the hands of the American falls over the years. Some of these were purely accidental while others were intentional. That being known, the engineers expected to find a wide array of bodies once the falls dried up.
Much to their (and everyone's) surprise, only two bodies were found during the whole procedure. One thing that tourists and employees did find plenty of though, was coins. The dry falls were left open for those who wanted to explore the river bed to collect coins and various artifact that were tossed into the raging rivers in years past.
While the news revolving the dead bodies stole headlines, that's not what the engineers were truly there to examine. The rock movements were the subject of interest and using strategic drilling techniques, engineers were able to relieve problematic behavior and hydrostatic pressure. The operation was going along quite well but no one found out what to do regarding the massive rock pile at the bottom of the falls.
Eventually, the team decided to leave the pile there. After all, nature intended for it to be at the bottom of the falls and at the bottom it would stay. Also, moving the rocks would not achieve any scientific goals. Sure, it might make the falls look prettier but considering the amount of work that would take, the team decided against it.
In November of 1969, after five months of hard work, the American Falls was on its way back to greatness. Engineers removed the first blockage so water slowly returned to the falls it once called home. Once the engineers had removed certain rocks from the base for their geological testing, the falls were rewatered. On November 25, 2,650 curious onlookers flocked to the town of Niagara to witness this unique feat of nature.
If you're sad that you missed this once in a lifetime opportunity, don't be. The truth is, it isn't a one in a lifetime opportunity. For the falls will likely become dry again. Researchers state that the two oldest bridges crossing the falls are in dire need of repairs. It's likely that the only way to do this is to de-water the falls for the second time. So pack up your bags, load up the minivan and head north to the great Niagara Falls.
No need to rush though. The U.S. government says the project won't start before 2019. They first have to wait for proper funding. You can bet though that once the project is underway, a record number of tourists will migrate once again to upstate New York to witness the second coming of this engineering feat. For all, you environmental conservationists out there, Niagara Parks Commissioner Janice Thomson says draining the falls will have no negative impact on the environment.