Niagara Falls' River Water Turned Black, Sludgey, And Very Smelly


Tom Hale


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist

Stock image of the Niagara Falls. R Rusak/Shutterstock

The Niagara Falls is undoubtedly one of the world’s great natural wonders. On Saturday, however, the usually idyllic waters of the Niagara River gushed with a smelly black sludge.

“I was just praying it wasn't an oil leak," Pat Proctor, vice president of local helicopter tour company Rainbow Air Inc, told the local paper Buffalo News. "It looked like something out of a sci-fi movie."


Somehow, routine maintenance of a local wastewater treatment plant resulted in an output of thick black sewage water into the Niagara River near the falls on Saturday. The huge quantity of black liquid swamped the dock on the US side of the falls, turning a deep murky shade.

"The “inky water” is the result of a routine, necessary, and short term change in the waste water treatment process," the Niagara Fall’s WaterBoard said in a statement.

A photograph from a helicopter on Saturday shows the scale of the problem. Courtesy of Rainbow Air Inc.

“The blackish water contained some accumulated solids and carbon residue within permitted limits and did not include any organic type oils or solvents," added the Niagara Fall’s WaterBoard. "The unfortunate odor would be limited to the normal sewer water discharge smell." They also apologized to any locals or tourists disturbed by the strange occurrence.

Fortunately for the inhabitants of the local waters (and the fall’s hundreds of daily tourists), the murky water had dissipated by Sunday morning. Nevertheless, the event prompted its fair share of concern among local people worried about their area’s water safety standards.


New York Governor Andrew Cuomo took to Twitter to announce he was ordering the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to immediately investigate the situation, saying “violations of the state's water quality standards are a serious issue.”

The Niagara Falls is the collective name for three waterfalls – Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls, and the Bridal Veil Falls – that sit on the border between the province of Ontario in Canada and the state of New York in the US. Although they might be some of the world’s most famous waterfalls, they are not the tallest, widest, or the highest-volume waterfall. The honor of the largest waterfall in the world, with all dimensions taken into account, is Victoria Falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Even so, the Niagara Falls is no wimp. Its three cascades pump out over 168,000 cubic meters (6 million cubic feet) of water every minute at speeds of about 40 kilometers (25 miles) per hour. When it’s not pumped full of stinking black sludge, it’s also regularly cited as one of the world’s most visually stunning waterfalls.



  • tag
  • geology,

  • water,

  • pollution,

  • environment,

  • weird,

  • Niagara Falls,

  • strange,

  • waterfall,

  • natural world,

  • Water pollution