How Niagara Falls was dewatered in 1969 and a look at the initial plans to do it again

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) – Niagara Falls ran dry back in 1969. The Albert Elia Building Company in Niagara Falls dewatered it.

“We were hired to build the coffer dam that actually diverted the flow from the American Falls over to Horseshoe Falls,” Rick Elia Albert Elia Building Companysaid. His grandfather founded Albert Elia Building Company in 1917. It’s now known as Sevenson Environmental Services.

Back in the late 1960’s when the falls were dewatered, crews built a dam between the eastern most end of Goat Island and the mainland to dry up the river bed and falls.

Elia said truckloads of dirt were dumped to create it. “We just pushed an earth dam slowly across the river. Slowly squeezing off the flow from the American side.”

Elia, one of the owners of Sevenson Environmental, remembers how remarkable it was to see the falls dry. “To be able to go and actually walk on a river bed that hundreds of thousands of gallons used to flow over and does now. That was pretty cool.”

Now 47 years later, Niagara Falls State Park Officials are interested in building a coffer dam once again to divert this national treasure.

“Dewatering the falls, the only way we’re going to get that accomplished is with a coffer dam. We looked at the possibility of Niagara Falls Dry 1969rehabbing the existing bridges… after looking at it, they could not be rehabbed,” Mark Thomas, New York State Parks Western District Director said.

Two metal trusses were installed on top of the original stone arch bridges so pedestrians could cross safely. The original bridges have been crumbling for years. “The steel is deteriorated to the point where it cannot be rebuilt and the concrete is crumbling because of its age as well,” Thomas said.

This project won’t begin for at least 4 years. When it does, officials hope to make it a tourist destination.

New York State Park officials showed residents the bridge designs being considered. Here’s a link to more information about the project. Also, open comment period is still open. If you want to submit a statement, you can send an email to provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review. Note: Comments containing links are not allowed.

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