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April 22, 2014

Drought shuts down splash fountains at Modesto parks

The city of Modesto will not be turning on the spigot for its park splash fountains to save water, which could send kids running to home sprinklers or, some fear, less safe water spots. Turlock will trim the spray, but keep the play.

The drought has fallowed fields and cost jobs. Now, it’s shriveling kids’ cool summer fun as well.

The city of Modesto will not be turning on the spigot for any of its park splash fountains, those random spurts of water kids run through giggling. Turlock’s two park splash zones will stay wet, but will trim the spray zone and limit hours.

“California is facing a serious drought and the city of Modesto is doing its part to conserve water. One of these efforts includes the closing of splash fountains this summer,” read Tuesday’s announcement by the Modesto Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods Department, followed by the list of 10 parched parks.

Water from the fountains is not recycled, said Steve Lumpkin, acting director for the department. He did not have an estimate of water used by the splash fountains, but said parks overall were asked to cut water use by 40 percent. To do that, the grass will be getting less water as well, and sprinklers along the perimeter will be turned in a bit to avoid dripping on streets and sidewalks, he said.

But will dry fountains save water, or just push kids to home sprinklers or more dangerous water fun? Comments on The Modesto Bee’s Facebook page leaned toward the latter two.

“I am concerned that kids will try to play in the water in canals instead because let’s face it kids are kids and will want to play in the water somewhere. At least the fountains offered a safe place,” posted Colleen Stephansen.

“Back to the canals like me ‘n my bros grew up swimmin’ in,” wrote Brandon Horton. Others said they will be heading to the river for a dip.

Asked about the safety benefits for children with the splash zones, Lumpkin said that was not part of the discussion. “The question has not come up,” he said.

But the question of safety did come up in Turlock, said Allison Van Guilder, director of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Facilities Department.

“We considered a variety of options ranging from limiting days and hours of use to reducing the time of each spray cycle. Given the fact that these spray parks provide a safe way to cool off, particularly for those who may not have access to a pool in their backyard, we opted to go with reducing the time of each spray cycle,” Van Guilder said by email Tuesday. Turlock installed smaller nozzles on the spurters, lowered the water pressure and cut each spray cycle by half, she said.

The splash zones use a significant amount of water. Modesto measures water use parkwide and could not provide gallons used just by the fountains. In Turlock, the splashing play zone at Broadway Park uses 313 gallons of water per two-minute cycle and the larger Columbia Park water feature uses about twice that, Van Guilder said.

Several Modesto parents, especially those without air conditioning, said they will be turning to sprinklers.

“We may have to use our sprinklers a little more. Doesn’t help the water situation but have to keep my family cool and happy some way,” said Becca Souza.

“All the lawns at the parks still get watered, right? Can’t the fountain water flow into the landscape somehow? When I let my kids play in the sprinkler at home, it’s also watering our yard which we would do anyway,” commented Jaime Lirette. She advised parents to time park visits to the watering schedule.

The splash fountains will not reopen until water conditions ease, Lumpkin said. “If the rain cycle changed and the snowpack, so we’re not looking at severe water rationing this summer,” he said, the department could reconsider.

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