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Respect the ice boom process: Ice will gradually head down Niagara River

That ice is still around. But it should be flowing away over the next few days.

Following a winter which produced plenty of cold and ice for Western New York, the removal of the ice boom began on Monday.

If you are still seeing ice in the Niagara River, that's because the boom will be removed over a few days. Each day, more ice should be released.

"It's not fully out yet, and the process takes a few days," said Lauren Schifferle, a civil engineer with the Water Management Division for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Buffalo District. "What we’ll see is the ice is going to follow downstream as they bring it out. It depends little bit on the weather, but we'll see it flow downstream more quickly."

The boom, which is owned and operated by the New York Power Authority and Ontario Power Generation, is installed every December between Buffalo Harbor and Fort Erie, Ont., to minimize ice floes that contribute to shoreline erosion in the Niagara River and may threaten to damage downstream hydropower operations.

Removal begins when ice cover is estimated to be below 250 square miles. The earliest it can be removed is April 1, per the International Joint Commission, which oversees actions in lakes and rivers along the United States-Canada border.

The 8,800-foot boom consists of 22 spans of steel pontoons which are anchored to the bottom of Lake Erie at 400-foot intervals by 2.5-inch steel cables. It was first installed in 1964, originally using timbers; steel pontoons were first used in the 1997-98 winter season.

Schifferle said the removal of the ice boom can depend on the weather; for instance, high winds could delay the process. Also, removal could be delayed if repairs need to be made to the boom.

Schifferle said that the removal process can be lengthy due to the size of the boom and the work that goes into disconnecting it, and that a resulting "ancillary bonus is that ice flows out in a more staged manner."

"The main reason it comes out in stages is because of how long it is, and the fact that it takes many hours of labor and manpower," she said. "It's not the reason of doing so, it's a bonus of the process."

Last year the boom was removed in on April 10. In 2017 and 2016 the boom was removed in early March due to warmer weather. The earliest start date ever for removal was Feb. 28, 2012; the latest was May 3, 1971, according to the IJC.

Updated images of the Niagara River can be viewed at iceboom.nypa.gov.

What's that metal thing on the ice below Niagara Falls?

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