New York art project creates ‘Waterfalls'

If they pay attention to it at all, many people view the water off Manhattan's East Side as a flat, even boring expanse stretching under a series of bridges.

Not this summer.

When the spigots are turned on Thursday, four mammoth waterfalls will spring into existence, freestanding cataracts roaring down into the East River and New York Harbor in a multimillion-dollar engineering feat designed by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson.

“Here in New York, water is everywhere. We take the water for granted,” Eliasson said. “I want to suggest – now, it's not about the land; now it's about what's between the land.”

“The New York City Waterfalls” is the city's largest public art project since 2005, when artists Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, adorned 23 miles of Central Park's paths with thousands of saffron drapes. The artificial cascades will be up through Oct. 13.

For this project, since there are no cliffs for water to pour over, metal scaffolds provide the framework for each waterfall. A system of pumps carries water up to a trough, where it will be released in a frothy cascade – about 35,000 gallons every minute for all four falls.

They will roar off Governors Island in the harbor and into the East River at the Brooklyn base of the Brooklyn Bridge, Pier 35 near the Manhattan Bridge and off the Brooklyn Promenade. The highest will stand 120 feet tall, or almost the height of the Statue of Liberty, minus its pedestal.

The $15.5 million cost of “Waterfalls” was raised by the nonprofit Public Art Fund. $13.5 million came from donations, and a state agency picked up the rest of the tab.