Artist Olafur Eliasson's ambitious and controversial waterfall installation ends today after a 15-week run, leaving sick trees, irritated residents, and a collective 'meh,' in its wake. Last week tests conducted by Cornell University concluded that the soil at the River Café, just downwind from the Brooklyn Bridge waterfall, had salt levels almost 10 times higher than normal. “Those levels are amazingly high, and if that level of salt was in the soil for a long period of time, the plants wouldn’t survive,” soil expert John Ameroso tells Brooklyn Paper.
The test confirmed the suspicions of River Café manager Scott Stamford, who had been complaining for months that the wind was blowing salty East River water onto the trees at his restaurant, turning them prematurely brown. In response to criticism, the waterfalls’ operating hours were cut in half in September, to 49.5 hours per week from 101 hours per week, and workers hosed down the damaged trees with fresh water every day. But Judy Stanton of the Brooklyn Heights Association tells the Times that on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, everything "except for a few of the evergreen holly bushes, everything within the range of the waterfall turned brown and lost leaves."
Still, officials insist the exhibit was ultimately a success. Mayor Bloomberg had predicted that the waterfalls would generate some $55 million in economic activity, and the city’s Economic Development Corporation is preparing a report that will include an estimate on the revenue generated. (Bloomberg's spokesman Jason Post cited sold-out boat tours as an example of the waterfalls' popularity.) River Café valet Ben Corman seems to sum up the mixed reaction to the waterfalls, telling the Times that "if he did not work so close to one, and go home smelling like the East River, he would probably like them."