Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Kirsten Scherrer makes this connection here…

The news article entitled “Bridge project could ‘dry up’ Niagara Falls” was reported by CNN on January 25, 2016. Niagara Falls is a series of three waterfalls, the American as seen in Figure 1, the Bridal Veil Falls, and the Horseshoe Falls, located on the Niagara River that flows from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. There is currently a proposal to temporarily dry up the American side of Niagara Falls in order to demolish, remove, and possibly replace two 115 year old stone bridges. These bridges connect the US mainland with Goat Island, which is between the American and Bridal Veil Falls. If the proposal goes through, the water that would flow over the American Falls would be diverted to the Horseshoe Falls and also to the Robert Moses Niagara Hydroelectric Power Station. The construction could potentially take up to nine months to complete. This was done previously when the Falls were dewatered in 1969 by the Army Corps of Engineers as seen in Figure 2 to study the effects of erosion and the stability of Niagara Falls with the use of a cofferdam. The article relates to the water resources engineering domain because Niagara Falls is a major source of hydropower in the United States and Canada. Niagara Falls is currently the largest electricity producer in the entire state, generating 2.4 million kilowatts (Niagara Power Plant, 2013). The production of steady supplies of clean, carbon-free hydroelectricity saves the state’s residents and businesses hundreds of millions of dollars each year. The article also relates to WRE because the completion of this project would require proper engineering design and water resources engineering techniques to redirect the flow of the Niagara River. A cofferdam would definitely need to be constructed to block off the flow of water and ensure that the area under construction is safe. Cofferdams are temporary enclosures built within or across a body of water to permit the enclosed area to be dewatered by pumping out the water to have a dry construction zone (Nemati, 2005). Information that was missing from this article includes potential dates that the construction would begin, contractors and companies involved, and where the funding for the project would come from.

In a broader sense, this water resources engineering issue also relates to global, economic, environmental, and societal contexts. Niagara Falls is a huge tourism draw, and temporarily drying up the American sided would have significant impacts on the number of tourists visiting the parks. While the American Falls going dry would initially draw some attendance to see the once in a lifetime event, the overall number of tourists would decrease on the New York side, especially during summer months. In contrast, tourism on the Canadian side of the Falls would increase and benefit from the American Falls loss of attendance. Tourism from Niagara Falls impacts the local economies of both countries. With less people visiting the American side of Niagara Falls, local restaurants, hotels, and businesses that rely on Niagara Falls tourism would lose customers and suffer. Again, the opposite goes for the Canadian side, which would experience a greater influx of tourists and people spending money in their city, and as a result would get a boost in the local economy. In addition, there’s a possibility that more water than usual would be directed to the Niagara Falls Power Authority, so more hydroelectricity could be generated than on average. The economy of New York State could also be affected if more hydroelectricity than average is produced due to this project and drying up the American Falls. If state residents and businesses save money on their electric bills, they’ll have more money on hand to spend on other items, which would benefit the economy. This water resources issue also can be related to environmental contexts. Drying up the Falls also provide a rare opportunity for scientists and engineers to study Niagara Falls. If the project goes through then the Falls would be dry for months, which would give researchers time to learn more about the river. The effects of a decrease in sediment transport over the American Falls could be looked into along with the erosion of the river banks. In conclusion, drying up even just one of the three waterfalls of Niagara Falls would require different water resources engineering efforts and have a significant impact on other issues such as the local economy and science and research.


Figure 1 Current view of American Falls (Leopold, 2016)


Figure 2 Niagara Falls previously dewatered in 1969 (Niagara falls, 2010)


URL: http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/25/travel/niagara-falls-dewatering-bridge-feat/


Leopold, T. (2016, January 25). Bridge project could ‘dry up’ Niagara Falls. Retrieved February 23, 2016, from http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/25/travel/niagara-falls-dewatering-bridge-feat/


Nemati, K. M. (2005). Temporary Structures Cofferdams. Retrieved February 23, 2016, from http://www.cv.titech.ac.jp/~courses/atce2/Lesson4.pdf


Niagara falls without water as seen in 1969. (2010, December 16). Retrieved February 23, 2016, from http://photoblog.nbcnews.com/_news/2010/12/16/5661928-niagara-falls-without-water-as-seen-in-1969


Niagara Power Plant. (2013). Retrieved February 23, 2016, from http://www.nypa.gov/facilities/niagara.htm