SHRP-2 Research: Liberty & Armstrong Tunnel
January 3, 2017

Nondestructive Evaluation of the Schoellkopf Power Plant Aqueduct

In a recent effort with the Niagara Falls, NY Water Board, Penetradar conducted a site survey in downtown Niagara Falls at the Seneca Gaming Office Building (formerly Carborundum Center) using ground penetrating radar (GPR) and thermographic imaging (IRT). The desired outcome of the project was to locate a subsurface concrete vault that was once part of an aqueduct that brought water from the upper Niagara River to the Schoellkopf hydroelectric power plant.


The concrete vault and connecting tunnel were one of two aqueduct systems that were constructed in the early 1900’s in order to channel water across the city of Niagara Falls to a small reservoir near the edge of the Niagara gorge. This reservoir provided a continuous flow of water to the Schoellkopf power plant in order to provide efficient hydroelectric power to the city.

The Schoellkopf power plant was built into the edge of the Niagara gorge, resting 200 feet over the bottom, and roughly 2000 feet down river from the Niagara Falls. At the height of operation, the plant was considered to be the greatest at the time.

However, on June 7, 1956, due to water seepage behind the walls which resulted in cracking, the Schoellkopf power plant collapsed into the lower Niagara river. This catastrophic disaster destroyed two thirds of the site and greatly reduced the amount of power produced to the city for the following five years. This resulted in the Congressional passage of the 1957 Niagara Redevelopment Act, using Federal grant money to build the current Niagara Hydroelectric Power Plant.


Once the new power plant was operational the aqueducts that cut through the city to feed the Schoellkopf were no longer needed and were hastily filled in and new construction built over top of them. Now, 60 years of ground settling has raised concern with city officials and land owners.

Penetradar used a combination of GPR man portable equipment (Penetradar’s IRIS-MP) and thermographic imaging to survey the site of customer interest. After processing the data collected from the site, Penetradar was able to provide compelling information determining the location of the concrete vault. A sample of the results can be viewed below.

The infrared image above shows a warmer region which outlines a 10 ft by 30 ft rectangular area, which suggests the presence of the concrete vault. Radiometric measurements in these areas showed the temperature to be as much as 2 degrees F greater, as depicted by the red/yellow shading. This temperature difference and the fact that these areas are warmer is significant and is consistent with what would be expected from an air-filled vault.

GPR detections in the plan-view map are shown as green shaded areas. A subsurface layer was detected in the expected area of the vault surface, supporting the evidence found by the infrared results.

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