By Mr. Andrew A Kornacki (USACE)March 19, 2015
The ice boom, located at the outlet of Lake Erie near the head of the Niagara River, is installed each year to accelerate the formation and stabilization of the natural ice arch. The ice boom is installed to reduce the frequency and duration of ice runs from Lake Erie into the Niagara River, but does not eliminate the release of lake ice into the Niagara River.
By reducing the frequency and duration of ice runs, the ice boom diminishes the probability of large-scale ice blockages in the river which can cause flooding, damage to shoreline property, as well as a reduction in flow of water to the hydro-electric power plant intakes.
The ice boom is owned and operated by the New York Power Authority and Ontario Power Generation and both are responsible for its installation and removal.
The International Joint Commission (IJC) was established under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to help the United States and Canada prevent and resolve disputes over the use of shared waters.
The IJC's International Niagara Board of Control, established in 1953, monitors the operation of the Chippawa-Grass Island Pool above Niagara Falls and also oversees the installation and removal of the ice boom. The Board also monitors the ice melt each spring to determine when conditions are acceptable for the removal of the boom.
As part of the monitoring efforts, representatives of the Board including the Corps of Engineers, Environment Canada, New York Power Authority, and Ontario Power Generation, perform helicopter flights on the eastern end of Lake Erie to determine the thickness of the lake ice.
First, the helicopter will land on the ice and bounce to test the stability.
Once it is determined that the ice is solid enough to walk on, team members move out onto the ice and drill holes using an electric auger.
After the auger penetrates through the ice, a modified ruler is used to take ice thickness measurements.
This process is repeated at five additional locations across the eastern end of Lake Erie.
Ice thickness is one piece of information used to monitor the ice behind the boom.
Other monitoring includes:
- Observation of ice cover through satellite imagery
- Information from the Canadian and U.S. National Ice Services
- And flights over the ice using a fixed wing aircraft
The boom opening is dependent on weather, ice conditions in the Niagara River, and other factors. Traditionally the boom is opened by April 1 of each year, unless there is more than 250 square miles of ice remaining in the eastern end of Lake Erie.