Next Wednesday with its forecast of a high of 100 degrees in Manteca would be an ideal day for moms to take their kids to Library Park to frolic in the interactive water play feature while they keep an eye on them as they sit in the shade of the stately sycamore trees.
The squeal of kids playing among jets of water shooting up from a feature encompassing subtle lessons in Manteca history, culture, geography, and the area economy within its design won’t be heard, though.
The whimsical train horn sound that accompanied the repertoire of water spurts has been silenced for more than two years. The only water to splash on the multi-colored concrete is what Mother Nature delivers from the sky.
It was turned off due to California’s epic drought. While the wet winter has eased water conditions somewhat, it still remains dry. Manteca is under a state mandate to reduce water use 27 percent over 2013 levels as its fair share to help California weather the drought. And whether the water play features comes back on again could be at least a $500,000 question.
The water play feature became an instant hit when the “on” button mounted on pseudo railroad crossing warning signals was pushed officially for the first time in April 2008.
The water play feature was built with $450,000 in bonus bucks collected on new homes in exchange for residential sewer allocation. It was designed as the focal point for a $1.3 million expansion and enhancement of the venerable downtown park that included a new pavilion, playgrounds, murals, bocce court, and other touches. It was also seen as a way to breathe new life into downtown by making Library Park more of a plaza for people to gather.
Getting the play feature turned back on is dicey and complex.
First there is the issue of state drought rules.
City Manager Karen McLaughlin noted municipal staff has made several inquiries of Sacramento bureaucrats to see whether it can be legally turned on without modifications. As part of the drought emergency, the state has banned the use of water features that do not either recirculate water or use reclaimed water. There has been talk of making such a ban permanent even after California recovers from the drought.
McLaughlin said a week ago a state official told them it was her understanding Manteca might be able to use the water feature. When the bureaucrat was pressed to provide that in writing, she said she needed an additional few weeks to research the matter.
2 million gallons
of water in 2009
Depending upon what the state sends Manteca way, what the city does next won’t be an easy decision.
If the state says it is OK to turn it back on without any modification, McLaughlin said there is the serious question of water use that the city will need to address.
The water play feature used 2 million gallons of water in 2009. That’s roughly the equivalent of the water use of 33 Manteca households for an entire year.
All of that water is dumped directly into the city’s sewer system and sent to the wastewater treatment plant.
McLaughlin said if the city is told it can use the feature without retrofitting, “we would most definitely limit the times the feature could be used.”
That could involve limiting its use to days when the temperature is above 90 degrees, restricting hours, limiting it to weekends or weekdays or only allowing it on for special events such as the Tuesday night farmers markets in the summer.
Should the state say the water feature has to be retrofitted to recirculate water or use reclaimed water, it creates two big issues – one financial and one political.
Preliminary estimates to upgrade the water feature to a treated reticulating system ranges from $450,000 to $500,000. That means to use the water play feature again the country would have to spend as much — or more — than they paid to build it eight years ago.
A big portion of the cost is for a mini treatment plant for the water.
Kids’ pee creates
a new problem due
to state rule change
And a new state regulation adds another cost that, while small, has the potential to create enormous political issues as the city struggles to address the homeless problem.
The state is now requiring water play features that are put in place with recirculating systems to have showers installed.
That’s because in case the treatment system fails or goes off line, children can shower after using the water play feature.
McLaughlin said the state is concerned that it isn’t usual for young kids when they are playing in water to pee in their swimsuits. That would mean — if the treatment system doesn’t work — kids could be frolicking in water mixed with pee.
How that squares with kids inadvertently peeing in public swimming pools such as at Lincoln Park isn’t clear. While those using public swimming pools are required to use showers before entering the water, they could very easily come in contact with water that has been peed in by others. Also the health issues connected may not be that drastic as there is no requirement at this time that existing water play features such as at Mistlin Park in Ripon that already recirculate water would have to add showers.
The use of showers before entering a water play featuring would not be enforced.
Having such showers in place at the play feature at Library Park is expected to attract homeless to use them as showers as has happened in other cities.
Turlock, which doesn’t have showers at its Broadway Splash Park south of downtown, does have a feature with three elevated buckets that tip over once they are filled up drenching whoever is below. Back in 2006 the homeless were flocking to the park to take showers under the buckets until the city was able to get rules in place limited the use of the park to those 12 and under while at the same time putting pressure on the homeless not to use it.
Turlock, like Manteca, turned off its two water play features because of the drought. They did make exceptions to turn them back on during heat waves — typically temperatures in the high 90s and above — last summer stop provide kids with a chance to get relief from the heat.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org