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Modern-Day Water Giver

July 19, 1998|Darrell Satzman

It was a November day in 1913 when William Mulholland said, "There it is, take it," and water from his 233-mile Los Angeles Aqueduct, ferried from the Owens Valley, first cascaded down a Sylmar hill. Less fabled but more mysterious than the Hollywood Sign, Sylmar's two aqueducts--the first completed in 1913 and the second in 1970--are the entry point for about 70% of the city's tap water. Willie Hodges, a 30-year Department of Water and Power veteran who is retiring this month, has managed the Los Angeles Aqueduct Filtration Plant for the past 11 years.

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Q: Are there separate cascades for each aqueduct?

A: There are two cascades. The cascade from the second aqueduct is taller and that's the one you see from the [Golden State] freeway. The smaller one comes out closer to the bottom of the hill. That's where Mulholland made his speech.

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Q: Why is the water not always flowing?

A: There is a power plant at the bottom. When the power plant is offline, or there's more water than the plant can handle, the water runs down the cascades.

Q: Do the cascades have a function or do they just look nice?

A: The water runs into rows of concrete blocks, which slow it down, keeping it at a constant speed. Otherwise it could burst through at the bottom.

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Q: How much water passes through?

A: About 450 million gallons per day.

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Q: What would happen if someone attempted to raft the cascades?

A: They'd be dead before they hit the bottom.

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Q: Anybody ever try?

A: We had a guy we pulled out of the aqueduct at the bottom. He said he came down but we didn't believe him because he was still alive.

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Q: Recently, a national panel cited the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California for producing the country's best-tasting water. How does Sylmar water measure up?

A: Every water is a little bit different. I think ours tastes just as good. I drink it.

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