Why Niagara Falls isn't frozen and will likely never freeze
Niagara Falls is flowing normally despite freezing temperatures
The force and volume of water pouring over Niagara Falls has kept the falls flowing despite the cold spell that has gripped Ontario and other parts of the continent.
The falls have not frozen over and probably never will.
To the eye right now it looks as though parts of Niagara Falls are frozen because of the miniature glaciers and long icicles forming around the mouth of the falls, that's simply not the case. Water is still moving beneath the ice, according to Niagara Parks.
"It is impossible given the flow of water, the volume of water that's flowing through and the fact that the ice boom is in place further up in the river where it's holding ice back," said Janice Thomson, Chair of Niagara Parks Commission.
Thomson stood at the falls Wednesday. She was struck by both the beauty and the sound.
"You can stand there and you hear the roar of the water, you feel the power of it and then you hear ice cracking. It's beautiful to stand there and listen to it," said Thomson. "It's just nature at its finest when you hear the cracking of the ice and you realize that the force of the water is always going to triumph."
In 1964 an 'ice boom' was put in place between the town of Fort Erie and the city of Buffalo to hold ice back. It's 2.7 kilometres long and is made of floating 30-foot long steel pontoons.
Water flow rate
According to Niagara Parks, 75 per cent of the water flowing from Lake Erie along the Niagara River is diverted about a kilometre away from the falls through tunnels and canals for hydro-electric purposes. It's then returned back into the lower Niagara River.
In the summer, less water is diverted, only about 50 per cent, so that more water rushes over the falls. About 85 million litres of water are rushing over the falls during the winter in comparison to the summer months when the flow is about 170 million litres of water per minute.
"With less water going over the falls, there is greater opportunity for ice to build up, giving the appearance of 'frozen falls'," said Niagara Parks.
Agreeing to flow
The 1950 Niagara Treaty between Canada and the United States dictates the minimum amount of water going over. It governs the use of water flowing out of Lake Erie.
The water and the river is just flowing far too fast.- Aaron Thompson, chair of the International Niagara Board of Control for the IJC
From Oct. 31 to April. 1 the minimum flow rate during both the day and night is 50,000 cubic feet per second. During the summer, it's 100,000 during the day and 50,000 at night.
"The minimums were put in place to preserve the scenic beauty of the falls and strike a balance between the scenic beauty — the tourism impacts, but also the need for hydro power for the two countries," said Aaron Thompson, chair of the International Niagara Board of Control for the International Joint Commission.
Thompson says these minimums are maintained despite the weather.
"It basically continues winter and summer unimpeded. The water and the river is just flowing far too fast," said Thompson.
Under the treaty the, water is split three ways between the falls, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and the New York Power Authority. They operate the International Control Dam that splits the water through 18 underwater gates.
Gerry Foote, OPG's Vice-President of Niagara Operations works at a generator, about 10 kilometres from the dam.
"When there is less water going over the falls that really does mean that we're actually making more power because we're passing it through the power stations," said Foote.
Breaking the ice
With the recent consistent negative temperatures more ice is forming and along with the ice boom, Foote says they're also using boats to break up the ice.
According to Foote, OPG's boat has been out since Dec. 28 and has been running around the clock managing ice above the falls, pushing it away from the tunnel intakes.
People believe perhaps there isn't as much water, but it's just that it's hidden behind the ice.- Gerry Foote, OPG Vice-President of Niagara Operations
Foote says there's a lot more ice this winter in comparison to last year's mild winter, but the amount of ice buildup above the falls is fairly average for a normally cold winter.
"It's a significant increase as compared to last year and the year before, but overall I would say it's more of an average year for us because we typically have some ice to move around," said Foote.
"The biggest thing for us is just making sure that we have all of our assets available when we see these cold spikes that we're seeing right now."
Foote says when the ice builds up, it camouflages the water passing underneath.
"Sometimes people see less water coming over the falls … so people believe perhaps there isn't as much water, but it's just that it's hidden behind the ice," said Foote."