The American side of Niagara Falls may temporarily turn into a rock patch.
New York State officials plan a public hearing on Wednesday to discuss whether to turn off the taps on their side of the waterway while replacing 115-year-old bridges.
To do this, they might stem the flow on the American side of the falls while redirecting Niagara River water to the Canadian side.
“We would divert,” Randy Simons, of the New York State Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, said in a telephone interview. “The water would go over the Canadian side.”
Whatever happens on Wednesday, the public won’t see rocks instead of water on the American side of the iconic falls for several years, Simons said.
“You’re looking at at least three, five, seven years,” Simons said. “We don’t have any funding on this.”
It would take federal funding to support the project, expected to cost tens of millions of dollars, Simons said.
The agenda for the Wednesday meeting includes the presentation of three proposals, two of which call for “de-watering” of the falls, Simons said.
One of the “de-watering” proposals involves shutting the American falls down for five months and the other for seven months, Simons said.
Temporary truss structures have been in place over the bridges since 2004, when a big piece of one of the bridges fell into the Niagara River below, leaving a gaping void.
The bridges were built in 1900 and 1901 and they have been refurbished in 1969, 1980, 2004 and 2013.
If “de-watering” occurs, it wouldn’t be the first time the falls went dry.
U.S. engineers diverted water away from the American falls for several months in 1969.
Engineers then strengthened faults in the falls’ foundation to stem erosion.
The water-less falls in 1969 actually proved to be a tourism draw and that could happen again, Simons said.
“They had a unique tourism opportunity when that happened,” Simons said. “We think it would be a huge tourism draw (again). It would be a once-in-a-lifetime (opportunity).”
Back on March 29, 1848, the falls went silent for 30 hours after millions of tons of ice blocked the source of the river.
During that dry day, some local residents walked and rode horses on the falls’ bed.
Some of them collected souvenirs, including bayonets and tomahawks believed to be from the War of 1812.
The proposed plans envision widening the bridges so that they could support trolleys.
– With files from Associated Press