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The Birth Of Iguazú Falls


The Birth Of Iguazú Falls
The first tightrope walker crossed the Niagara Falls in 1859. Risk-takers have ridden the falls on jet skis, in huge rubber balls and even wooden barrels and many have died in the process. The steep drops mean waterfalls often pose a navigation problem. In the 19th century, the Welland Canal was built to bypass Niagara Falls.

People have long dreamed of harnessing the power and energy of the biggest falls. The first recorded attempt to use the swift waters above Niagara, for example, was in 1759 to power a water wheel and sawmill. Today many hydroelectric plants generate electricity near big waterfalls, such as the Sir Adam Beck Power Plants above Niagara Falls. River water is diverted downhill past propeller-like turbines. The rushing flow spins the turbine blades, creating renewable electricity. The bigger the drop, the faster the water, and the more energy it contains as a result.
Harnessing rivers for electricity can conflict with the natural beauty of their waterfalls. The Guaíra Falls on the Paraná River, probably the biggest waterfall by volume, were submerged in the 1980s by the building of the Itaipu hydroelectric dam.
These days, the conflict between power and nature is greater than ever. Dr Ryan Yonk is a professor of political science at Southern Utah University. According to him, “the demand for electricity generation in the developing world is not going away and it’s going to ramp up.” Controversial hydroelectricity projects, like some in Asia, involve a trade-off between beauty and tackling climate change. Dr Yonk believes “the alternatives in those countries are likely to be very dirty coal.”
Above Niagara Falls, treaties have balanced energy generation with iconic scenery since all the way back in 1909. During the summer, when most of the 12 million annual tourists visit the site, about half of the total water carried by the river must flow over the falls – an incredible 2,832 cubic metres per second (100,000 cubic feet per second). Yet these summer flow limits have a price. One study says the loss of potential electricity from the current treaty is 3.23 million megawatt hours each year – enough to run four million light bulbs.
Withdrawing more water could have benefits above hydropower generation. Samiha Tahseen is a civil engineering PhD student, studying Niagara flow at the University of Toronto. According to her, “you can reduce the erosion of the falls.”
Another advantage to limiting the flow is that it minimises the mist that obstructs the beautiful view. Samiha adds: “There is no denying that the mist is dependent on the flow so if you decrease the flow of the falls a little bit, that helps.”

The Birth Of Iguazú Falls