Feature Article - April 2014
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Make a Splash

Spraygrounds Get (Even More) Creative

By Dawn Klingensmith

Curbing Water Use

As park size and demand have increased, "the water runs all day for the entire summer," Neilson said, and water conservation has become an even greater concern.

"There's kind of a struggle between water consumption and play value," said Steve Brinkel, vice president and general manager of a Richmond, British Columbia-based waterpark design and manufacturing firm. "A lot of folks are looking to use less water, but the amount of water is directly proportional to how much fun the kids have."

Most manufacturers offer low-flow water-play features with smaller nozzles, but that's not a big thrust in the market right now.

"We don't believe the answer is providing equipment with even lower flow. It compromises play value," Benck said. Instead, "We always try to promote recirculation systems and larger reclamation systems."

Four years ago, when Louisville's then-mayor Abramson was lauding the city's new sprayground as a "great investment," he told the gathering that spraygrounds were relatively low-cost. But today, "because the market is maturing, people have really started to see the importance of water quality" as well as conservation and "spend a lot of money on what's buried underground that people don't even see," Benck said.

The reservoir for a recirculating water system is basically an underground swimming pool, with the same costly maintenance requirements. Where water isn't recirculated but retained for reuse, dechlorination systems are increasingly common.

Single-pass, drain-to-waste systems are becoming rarer, and looking forward, "I don't think we'll see many more of these flow-through type systems," Neilson said.

For now, "in a pocket park, a potable flow-through system is still a good option," she added.

Even where single-pass systems are specified, "Communities want to conserve every drop of water they can," Benck said. "We're doing one project where the water drains into a large underground tank, and the capacity of the tank determines splash pad usage—once it's full, the splash pad shuts off until the water is used for irrigation. Usually, these tanks have an overflow system" that expels excess water as wastewater.

Although this means the sprayground can shut down in the midst of a watery rollick, "The community is really excited and they've talked about educational signage" to explain the reason, Benck said.

To maximize water conservation, spraygrounds can be equipped with activation (on-off) switches and automatic shutoff with motion sensors or a timer. You can have one actuator that activates all the elements at once, or switches that turn on each of the specific elements. However, when it's up to kids to turn things on, they tend to overlook the switches on individual elements and miss out on all the fun, Thomas warned.

In hot, dry Southern California, water conservation is a critical concern for park planners. So when the City of Hanford, Calif., was looking to increase attendance at its Coe Park by adding a splashpad, water management was a key concern. Guidelines from the Department of Water Resources for California released in 2010 state that effluent water from splashpads cannot drain off the site.

Park Superintendent J. Dean Johns knew that recirculation was the typical solution—treating and re-using the effluent water—but having grown up in agriculture, he knew that returning water to the water table is also important. Ultimately, Hanford chose to go with a capture-and-repurpose percolation system.

"Environmentally sustainable design was important to us," Johns said. "A Capture & Repurpose Water Management Solution that returns water to the water table was a cost-effective solution."

In addition to the environmental benefits, this type of system is simple and cost-effective. Johns calculated the number of gallons that would be used per day that would otherwise be sent to drain, and then attributed a cost-per-gallon for the wastewater. As it turned out, the savings in wastewater costs would equal the cost of the recirculation system in just a few years. Over the lifecycle of the splashpad, this would result in lower costs than recirculating.