'Dewatering' Niagara Falls

(File photo) Tourists visit the brink of the American Falls after water was diverted on Aug. 21, 1969.

NIAGARA, N.Y. — Nearly 76,000 gallons of water pour over the American and Bridal Veil falls on the Niagara River every second, and soon it could dry up as part of a long-awaited bridge repair.

There's no timeframe for shutting off the water on the American side of Niagara Falls, however. New York officials say plans for repairs to bridges in Niagara Falls State Park — a project that was to include the dewatering of the cataracts — will go beyond this year.

Dewatering would involve building temporary dams to divert the river's flow and dry up portions of the precipice, allowing crews to mend two 117-year-old state park bridges.

In 2016, parks officials cited this as the earliest possible year in which repairs could move forward. But Angela Berti, a spokeswoman for the New York State Office of Parks, said recently that estimate assumed money would be available.

Randy Simons, public information officer for the department, said a historic stone arch bridge at Niagara Falls State Park will eventually need to be replaced.

Dewatering last took place in 1969, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers performed tests and measurements along the cliff face. Visitors at the time had mixed reactions.

"Some people are frustrated by seeing a rock pile after standing in a line of cars for hours,” Clint Salt, assistant manager of the former Sheraton Foxhead Inn in Ontario, told the Niagara Gazette at the time. “Those who can look at the dewatering from their hotel rooms are excited about it and realize they might never see it again like this in their lifetime.”

In order to dewater the falls, crews would build a cofferdam from the tip of Goat Island in the Niagara River to the mainland, cutting off water flow and thus providing a dry area for demolition and replacement work.

Replacing the bridges, which have been deteriorating with the swift current of the Niagara River, was expected to cost $23 million to $34 million. The work still requires formal approval from representatives of the U.S. and Canada, as well as funding.

In 2016, at the last public hearing about the project, state officials said they anticipated the need for private as well as public fundraising.

Philip Gambini writes for the Niagara, N.Y., Gazette. Reach him at philip.gambini@niagara-gazette.com