Water parks fight perception that they are water hogs

06/15/2014 12:00 AM

06/15/2014 3:57 AM

Front lawns are struggling to survive. Lake levels are dropping. Cities are talking about imposing tougher water restrictions if the drought continues.

So it isn’t surprising that when people drive by a water park and see people splashing and sliding and floating in a million gallons of water that they wonder: Why is that spigot still open?

With water everywhere at a water park, the public perception is wastefulness since roughly 40 percent of the U.S. is experiencing a drought — and 9 percent of Texas is suffering from an exceptional drought, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center.

“Our approach every day is to be as conservative with the water as we can,” said Frank Perez, operations coordinator at NRH2O, the city-owned water park in North Richland Hills. “We hope for rain just as much as everyone else; we just hope it rains overnight.”

In fact, continuous improvements in water park design, from increased deck aprons to higher splash guards, have helped conserve water, said Eric Hansen, director of development services for Cleveland-based Hotel & Leisure Advisors.

Although it may take 900,000 gallons to initially fill a water park, a park consumes only about 2.2 percent or 19,800 gallons a month, he said. Water is lost through evaporation, splash off, deck cleaning and backwash operations. Most of the water is recirculated.

“They are not out there spending money for water willy-nilly. The designers are very cognizant of how the water interacts with the guests,” he said. “It’s true a water park is a highly intensive water-use attraction.”

In Dallas-Fort Worth, city pools and water parks are generally operating normally during the drought although they must adhere to water restrictions imposed for landscape irrigation.

Those restrictions vary by city and depending on who is supplying the water. Restrictions are more severe in the northern suburbs of Dallas served by the North Texas Municipal Water District than they are in Fort Worth and its neighboring cities, served by the Tarrant Regional Water District.

To be sure, water parks risk becoming a battleground in places of more severe drought. Wichita Falls recently enacted a Stage 5 drought catastrophe conservation level, its most severe. Stage 5 prevents residents from using potable water for backyard pools, for example.

Some residents there are seeking support to force the shutdown of the city’s waterpark, Castaway Cove. For now, the park remains open and is hauling in well water to avoid tapping the city’s supply.

Business as usual

The city of Arlington hasn’t placed any restrictions on this region’s largest water park, Six Flags Hurricane Harbor, other than Stage 1 irrigation restrictions.

Stage 1 water restrictions were enacted a year ago by cities served by the Tarrant Regional Water District, including Arlington, to prolong the region’s water supply, said Dustan Compton, conservation program coordinator for the city of Arlington.

Stage 1 institutes a twice-per-week watering schedule but places no restrictions on hand watering or drip hoses, nor does it enact restrictions on business operations.

Other Stage 1 measures include reducing the frequency of draining and filling swimming pools and hosing paved areas.

“We are not going to ask businesses to change their daily operations and affect jobs, quality of life or employees unless it’s really needed. That would be a Stage 3 or a Stage 4 situation,” he said.

As part of Hurricane Harbor’s ongoing conservation efforts, water is filtered, treated and recirculated, said spokeswoman Sharon Parker. The park also uses water-saving toilets and sinks in its restrooms.

Irving-based Hawaiian Falls operates five water parks in the DFW region, including a new one that just opened in White Settlement and existing parks in Mansfield and Roanoke.

Clint Hill, regional director-North Texas for Hawaiian Falls, said about 95 percent of the water used in the parks is recycled.

“Water is our business, so everyone in the water park industry is always looking at ways to conserve more. It’s in our best interest to do all we can to help protect the water system,” Hill said.

At Hawaiian Falls, pools are drained at the end of the season, and then refilled at the start of a new season. It takes 700,000 to 1 million gallons to initially fill each park, depending on the park’s size and features.

“Each park is a little different, but we use less than a golf course and about what one baseball field uses annually,” he said, a surprising statistic. “When we go into new cities, people don’t realize how much we recycle.”

Drought conditions in North Texas haven’t changed operations at NRH2O.

The city uses 950,000 gallons at the beginning of the season to fill the water park and loses about 1 percent of the water each day through evaporation, splash-out and backwashing, Perez said.

As the park ages and filters need replacing, the park is replacing bulky sand filters with the latest filter technology, the “Defender,” a highly efficient filter made by Neptune-Benson that saves water and energy, Perez said. NRH2O has one Defender filter and plans to add more as it replaces aging sand filters in future years, he said.

Equal treatment

Tarrant Regional Water District’s Mark Olson, conservation and creative manager, said businesses, including water parks, could be impacted if the region were to reach a Stage 3 — when the district’s supply falls to 45 percent capacity.

Still, if that were to happen, the water district would not single out water parks, he said.

“From a Tarrant Regional Water District perspective, we want to treat all businesses alike,” Olson said. “If we ask a business to reduce water use by 20 percent, then we’d ask all businesses to do that.”

The district is targeting outdoor irrigation because that is where most water is used, he said. Outdoor watering can account for 60 percent of daily residential water use during the summer. Without water restrictions, water usage could soar an additional 100 million gallons per day.

“Water parks might seem like they use a lot, but considering a scale on where most of the water is going, that is minuscule,” Olson said.

In Arlington, Compton looks forward to prospects that El Niño — a weather pattern that could bring above average rainfall — will bust the drought and bring the area much-needed relief in the fall.

“The rains will come in the fall when El Niño is here and our lakes will fill back up” he said, “And we’ll be in better shape.”

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