The Shock and Awe of Niagara Falls

A love letter to some of the most photographed (and loudest) water in the nation.

“The Waters which fall from this horrible Precipice, do foam and boyl after the most hideous manner imaginable, making an outrageous Noise, more terrible than that of Thunder,” wrote Father Louis Hennepin, who, in the 1670s, became one of the first white men to visit Niagara Falls. The Catholic missionary may have been more horrified than impressed, but the “outrageous Noise” of the world’s second-largest waterfalls hasn’t stopped the millions of tourists who continue to visit each year.

The three falls—Horseshoe, American, and Bridal Veil—that make up Niagara are more than scenic: located squarely on the border between western New York and Southern Ontario, Canada, they provide drinking water to the area and power via hydroelectric dam. But tourism is the region’s biggest industry, employing tens of thousands of people on both sides of the border and bringing in hundreds of millions a dollar per year.

The water’s famously turquoise tone is provided by minerals, pounded out of the rock by the falls. In July 2017, a wastewater treatment plant in Niagara Falls, New York, accidentally released a plume of foul-smelling black sewage into the river at the base of the falls, outraging Governor Andrew Cuomo. “Polluting one of world's greatest wonders is completely intolerable and unacceptable,” he said in a statement, before hitting the city’s water board with a $50,000 fine.

We went to see the sight for ourselves and capture the reactions of Niagara’s gawkers (strictly from the Canadian side). The 6 million cubic feet of water running over Niagara Falls every minute is some of the fastest-moving in the world, hurdling over the edge at up to 68 miles per hour. And the falls aren’t just rushing—thanks to erosion, they’re also moving, at a rate of about a foot a year. The falls are already seven miles upstream of where they were located 10,000 years ago. If erosion continues at this rate, they could disappear into Lake Erie in another 50,000. That still leaves plenty of time to snap a selfie.


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