Fountain of youth: a water-quality system helps a city reopen a popular water play facility

Fountain of youth: a water-quality system helps a city reopen a popular water play facility

David Baar

The Steigerwaldt/Jockey Children’s Fountain has been called a singular jewel in Sarasota, Fla.’s beautifully transformed waterfront. But when health officials noted several cases of Cryptosporidiosis in local children from a local day care facility who had visited it, the future of this popular park feature became awash in uncertainty.

The fountain is located in Sarasota’s Bayfront Park, a revitalized harbor peninsula that has served as a vital element in reconnecting Sarasota’s downtown to its waterfront and a keystone of the city’s long-term urban revitalization plan.

Opened in 1997, the zero-depth, 4,000-gallon fountain was designed and built for interactive water play. From beneath its brick-paved floor, and surrounded by an excavated amphitheater comprised of steps for climbing and sitting, more than 30 jets of water rise amid large and colorful sculptures of native Floridian creatures, such as a manatee, alligator, sea turtle and a Florida panther and her cub. The site offers spectacular views of the moored sailboats dotting the bay on one side and Sarasota’s downtown skyline on the other. It had become a favorite spot for local families, busloads of school kids, summer camp groups and many out-of-town visitors before it was closed by the city in September 2000.

Water Quality Concerns

The evidence linking the fountain to the incidences of Cryptosporidiosis was anecdotal. Health officials had confirmed six cases of the illness in local children, and three of those children had visited the fountain.

“Although a definitive link between the fountain and the illnesses was never made, the city decided to close the popular fountain in response to public concern, as well as to be absolutely safe,” says Javier Vargas, operations supervisor for Sarasota’s Public Works Utilities Division. “Immediately upon its closing, we began a full assessment of the fountain water treatment system.”

The fountain uses potable city water, which is recycled and treated within the fountain system for a week. This recycled water is replaced weekly. The fountain’s original water-treatment system consisted of a single chlorine tablet feeder equipped with cartridge filtration. As water returned via the fountain drains to a 4,000-gallon underground storage tank, the treatment system filtered water at a rate of 140 gallons per minute. Because water is continuously pumped from the storage tank to the fountain’s pressure jets at a flow rate of 600 gallons per minute, the water didn’t receive full-flow filtration during each cycle.

“The original treatment system was similar to what’s being used today in most waterparks and splash fountains throughout the country and was in compliance with all regulatory agency requirements,” says Vargas. “But in light of public health concerns, the city wanted to ensure that visitors were provided the highest level of safety.”

Finding The Right System

The city directed its consulting engineer, MWH (formerly Montgomery Watson Inc.), to search all available technologies, including drinking water technologies and commercial and institutional swimming pool technologies, to identify a treatment system that would provide maximum protection for park patrons. MWH contracted with experienced water treatment technology provider Commercial Energy Specialists, of Jupiter, Fla., and the two firms worked together with the city’s public works department and the Sarasota County Department of Health in determining water-treatment system parameters.

As a result, an advanced filtration, disinfection and state-of-the-art water-quality monitoring and control system was selected and installed. A treatment building was built approximately 200 feet away from the fountain complex to house the new equipment. The final solution was installed under a design-build-construction method, and was completed within four months.

The new filtration and water chemistry control system, from USFilter Stranco Products, of Bradley, Ill., filters all of the water and ozonates and chlorinates separate side streams. The system provides the fountain full-flow filtration, producing water quality exceeding that of many municipal drinking water plants.

The entire volume of the fountain water is now filtered every six minutes using fully automated, dual-permanent media hi-rate sand filters equipped with extra-fine garnet media. The filter system provides direct control of turbidity using monitoring turbidimeters and an automated polymer feed system. The system provides automatic filter backwash, and backwash water is sent to the city’s sanitary sewer system.

Following filtration, approximately 50 gallons per minute are diverted through a sidestream for chlorine rejection from an automated calcium feed system. Two separate sidestreams, approximately 80 gallons per minute each, are ozonated, and then the three sidestreams are blended and piped to the fountain. The combined flow receives automated pH adjustment prior to leaving the treatment building.

The heart and brains of the new system is the USFilter Strantrol[R] System7[R] Mechanical Room Controller, which monitors and automatically controls pH, chlorine, water clarity and ozone levels. The controller also monitors the surge tank level, filter differential pressure and rate of flow. The controller is capable of logging up to 20 days of data, and a security code system is employed for separate access by managers and operators. The controller can be monitored and downloaded to a computer via telephone line or direct connect. In the event of an alarm, the controller can alert the operators via pager or fax.

“Because of the sophistication of the automated system, operators merely fill the calcium hypochlorite feeder with dry briquettes and periodically refill the liquid pH control agent and change polymer tanks,” says Vargas. “Operators also take periodic monitoring readings of all parameters and maintain manual logs to assure total compliance with Department of Health codes.”

Stringent Operations and Maintenance

The new system is working as designed, and city leaders and local public health officials are pleased with its performance. However, says Vargas, Sarasota’s commitment to achieving maximum patron protection at its zero-depth fountain hasn’t stopped with the installation of the state-of-the-art system.

“The city has fenced off the fountain area with a decorative aluminum fence to control access,” he notes. “The entire fountain is now pressure-cleaned every two weeks, and we have installed pre-entrance showers, and have made their use mandatory. We also strictly limit fountain use to a maximum bather load of 120 patrons, and now require advanced reservations for groups of 20 or more.” Vargas says that a licensed operator from the city’s water plant inspects the facility daily, and a full-time attendant at the fountain site, certified by the Department of Health, manually tests water quality every hour of operation.

Safety First

As splash fountains become increasingly popular in cities across the country, a growing awareness of their special filtering and water sanitation requirements is quickly surfacing. As kids again shout with delight as they play in the fanciful jets of Sarasota’s Steigerwaldt/Jockey Children’s Fountain, parents are assured that the park feature is providing maximum protection for their children.

“The most important thing for us,” says Vargas, “is to make sure the kids have fun in a safe place.”

David Baar is a senior project engineer for MWH (formerly Montgomery Watson Inc.), in Sarasota, Fla.

COPYRIGHT 2002 National Recreation and Park Association

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