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Defunct cable to be removed as newer units track river flow

A 715-foot-long steel cable that has carried a cable car across the Niagara River Gorge since 1973 will be torn down.

No, it's not the Whirlpool Aero Car apparatus that has served many thousands of tourists on the Canadian side of the Whirlpool Rapids since 1916.

It's a cable that was installed across the river between Lewiston and Queenston, Ont., nearly four decades ago to monitor the flow of water in the river below. A box-like car rolled along the cable regularly until 2001, when more modern methods were developed to measure how much water flows through the Niagara River from Lake Erie at Buffalo to Lake Ontario at Fort Niagara.

The car and the cable that supports it have outlived their usefulness, so its U.S. and Canadian co-owners have decided to remove them on April 3 and 4. As a safety measure, the fishing pier at the base of the Niagara Power Project will be closed on those two days to accommodate the deconstruction.

Maintenance and upkeep of the cable are shared by Ontario Hydro of Canada and the New York Power Authority, owner of the Niagara Power Project. "Since other means now are being used to monitor the water flow, the cable is no longer needed and is being permanently removed," the Power Authority announced.

The amount of water and its depth in the five Great Lakes and their connecting waterways are of great importance to shoreline property owners, fisherman and other mariners because low water can cause navigation hazards and high water can cause flooding and beach erosion. The water levels are affected by changes in climate, rainfall, ice buildup, wind speed and direction and other factors.

In addition, the amount of water flowing over the cataracts at Niagara Falls is strictly regulated by a treaty between the United States and Canada.

The treaty requires a flow of at least 100,000 cubic feet per second during the tourist season daylight hours and at least 50,000 cubic feet per second at night and during the winter months. The present reduced wintertime flow over the American, Bridal Veil and Canadian Horseshoe Falls must be increased to 100,000 cubic feet per second by April 1 as part of the scenic beauty for the millions of worldwide travelers who visit the region.

The rest of the river water is diverted around the falls through canals or underground pipes to drive electric generators at power projects on both the American and Canadian sides of the river. The water is restored to the river below the falls after it passes through the generating stations, and that is where the cable car was used to measure its volume.

If all of the water were permitted to flow over the cataracts with no diversion for power production, the flow would be about 202,000 cubic feet per second, according to the International Niagara Board of Control.

The water originates in the drainage basins of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie, and it flows through the Niagara River, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River to the Atlantic Ocean.

The Board of Control refers to the area of cable-car operation as the river's Cableway Section, stretching from the base of the Niagara Power Project across to the gorge wall in Canada. It explained that "conventional measurements" were taken from the cable car while "Acoustic Doppler Current Profile measurements" were taken from a moving boat that looked somewhat like a tugboat in the water below.

The rate of flow is determined by measuring the depth and width of the channel and the velocity of the flow. These measurements can be made from a bridge or a boat or from a cableway strung across the river.

Those measurements now are taken by more modern and sophisticated equipment.

The cable-car measuring equipment originally was to have been torn down last April by crews working simultaneously on both sides of the gorge, but a rock slide on the Canadian side prevented access to part of that work area and an access road was temporarily closed.

The work now has been rescheduled for April, and the Power Authority has contracted with Hohl Industrial Services of Buffalo to remove the cable.

The Coast Guard "will establish a temporary perimeter in the river within the work area that will prevent boat travel upstream of the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge," the Power Authority announced. "The river shoreline can still be accessed using the stairway at the lower fishermen's parking lot at the Power Project," it added.

The fishing pier, or platform, is known for superb fishing including for trout, salmon and bass. The pier normally is open to the public from dawn to dusk during the fishing season and is accessible to people with disabilities. It also has a fish-cleaning station and restrooms.

Parking normally is available at the foot of the Power Authority Service Drive and by an access road at the top of the Niagara Gorge.

email: rbaldwin@buffnews.com