Flowing in color

Robert Blechl

SYLMAR -- Shortly after nightfall, the rushing water began to switch

back and forth from a deep marine blue to dazzling magenta.

Despite what passing drivers may have thought, the odd behavior of


“the Cascades” -- the last stretch of the Los Angeles Aqueduct just east

of the Golden State (5) Freeway in Sylmar -- wasn’t due to some

millennial prankster or radioactivity.

Rather, Thursday’s colorful display marked the reintroduction of


decorative lighting for the 960-foot man-made waterfall. Providing the

state-of-the-art art shimmer was Special-T Lighting, a Burbank fiber

optics firm.

“It’s incredibly exciting for us,” said Darryl Daugherty, vice

president of sales at Special-T. “It’s a well-known, highly visible


The Cascades is the finale of the second Los Angeles aqueduct, a

177-mile waterway completed in 1970 to accommodate the region’s


continuing population boom. Although it was illuminated during its first

few years, the waterfall went dark in 1974. But after the positive

response generated by a special holiday lighting last year, L.A.

Department of Water and Power officials say the Cascades will now be

lighted year-round, from dusk until midnight.

“It’s a tribute to the imagination and to all the hard work that it

took to supply Los Angeles with an adequate water supply,” said DWP

Director Donald Cunningham.


For $170,000, Special-T provided the fiber-optic lighting and helped

with the installation.

Cunningham said the project, which cost about $500,000, was paid for

through a special fund aimed at promoting energy efficiency. The fund was

established by the state in 1996 when it approved utility deregulation.

“This can now be operated for $9 a day, a tenth of the cost in the

‘70s,” said David Freeman, DWP general manager. “We are using the

lighting of this cascade as an example for energy efficiency.”

Daugherty said the waterfall is lit with 96 square illuminators, each

about the size a large shoebox. They are on top of both concrete walls at

10-foot intervals. In all, 384 points of light are mounted on four

fiber-optic cables over the tumbling water.

Metal halide lamps make the display even more energy-efficient,

Daugherty said.

The four colors -- blue, green, magenta and white -- are melded with

the help of a synchronized color wheel system.

Special-T Lighting president John Audette said the Cascades, as it now

basks in the “light of the future,” is the largest of its kind in the

United States.

“This is a great Los Angeles landmark, and this is where we’re from,”

Audette said. “We’re really happy to have this this right in our