The man who turned off Niagara Falls

Nov 28, 2016
Originally published on December 8, 2016 5:23 pm

Meet the man who turned off the American Falls.

Col. Amos Wright is a retired US Army solider and engineer.  He and his wife Gloria live in Provo, Utah, where he spends time perfecting his golf game.

“It’s a pleasure to get out and be able to get out,” he said. “I claim that I can shoot a score below my age but you have to be pretty old to be able to do that.”

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He’s actually 92 years young. In the late 1960s he was with the Army Corps of Engineers in Buffalo. As the district engineer, he led a project to shut down the American side of Niagara Falls.

The project was meant to improve the falls’ appearance by clearing large rocks and boulders that had fallen. According to historical Corps publications, nearly 400 million pounds had accumulated at the base of the falls.

“Big, big chunks of rock, larger than houses are still there,” Wright said. “And so the concern was that maybe the falls would continue to deteriorate on that side of the river and become maybe just a slope all the way back, and it wouldn’t be a spectacular falls anymore.”

So, to save the falls, they turned off the falls.

“It really wasn’t really a very complicated matter,” Wright recalled. “People say, 'How did you stop the flow?' We just had a lot of dump trucks with a lot of rock and earth back up and dump their loads in the river and work their way across. It stopped the flow without any problem.”

About 30 tons of material was dumped into the Niagara River. That created a 600-foot-long dam between Goat Island and the mainland, and rerouted the water to the Canadian Falls.

“The American fall is of course quite different from the Canadian falls and I think equally interesting. So, when the water was turned off it was just amazing.”

Geologists conducted several rock studies once the water was off. The end result was to leave nature be.

Officials in New York State are planning to duplicate the process. They want to shut off the falls to replace pedestrian bridges in the Niagara Falls State Park. Now, they're trying to line up the financing. 

When asked if he had any advice for those following in his footsteps? Wright says the 1969 project went well and he wouldn’t have done anything differently.

Wright wasn’t able to see the project all the way to its end. He was reassigned to serve in Vietnam.

“I felt like I needed to serve in combat so I volunteered and so did my boss who was the division engineer in Chicago. He had responsibly over four or five districts so we both left and went to Vietnam,” he said.

Later Wright returned Washington, D.C., to serve at the Pentagon. There he finished his career. Afterward, he did visit the falls for recreation as a civilian.

So, if Wright is the man who turned off the falls, then who turned on the falls?

After Wright left, Col. Roy Hansen took over. When Hansen died in 2010, his obituary read: "The man who turned on the falls."

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