There are likely somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 splash pads in the U.S., a number that is growing by an estimated 5-10 percent per year. A few seasons ago, we wrote a blog about how to design a splash pad and the best ways to make sure your splash pad, splash deck, spray ground, aquatic play pad, rain deck, spray deck, spray pad, spray pool, and spray zone stands out above the crowd.
Since writing this blog, we’ve gained even more perspective on the subject and wanted to share the most common splash pad concerns (brought to us by customers and professionals in the industry) and possible solutions to these issues:
Problem: Potable water from a flow-through system, plus a porous or infrequently cleaned surface allows for algae growth on top of the pad. With porous systems, like pour-in-place, mold can grow deeper, which is a nightmare to remove. Algae can also make splash pads slippery and if the surface is a gritty concrete coating, scrubbing off the algae can be extremely difficult.
Solution: Regular cleaning and agitating can absolutely help with any algae problem. A maintenance tip for new splash pads is making sure water properly drains and doesn’t pool on the surface or spread toward the edges. Choosing a recirculating system can also help with algae and mold growth, but also comes with its own quirks (see below).
For existing splash pads, turning the water pressure down can reduce pooling as well. Another option is to replace the porous surface with a non-porous and impermeable surface that can be easily cleaned (since a slip-resistant surface definitely doesn’t perform as well under layers of algae).
Problem: Splash pads are not pools, but maintaining their chemical levels in recirculating systems is just as labor intensive. Re-circulating water, even in zero depth environments, is still shared water [x]. Bacteria can appear in fresh, flow-through applications (usually involving fecal matter, or kids spitting out/drinking the water), but bacteria is much more likely to occur in situations where the water is being cycled through.
Solution: Having fully trained, certified staff is essential for water health, as are UV Sanitation Systems (when possible) and comprehensive routine checks. It’s also just as important to remind patrons to use the splash pad appropriately: parents and guardians need to treat splash pads in much the same way as they do pools by utilizing swim diapers, refraining from drinking water, not using the spray nozzles to clean kids after diaper changes, and enforcing restroom breaks.
Problem: While many problems can’t be foreseen or prevented (such as power surges, malfunctions, or a rogue gang of toddlers) one issue that arises more often than not is clogged filtering systems. Filters can get filled, jammed, locked up or clogged due to guests wearing the wrong clothing, kids playing with water balloons, mud and silt from heavy rain, rubber pellet surfacing breaking down, or sand and dirt tracked in by users (especially from a nearby playground or beach).
Solution: For existing splash pads, it’s always helpful to remind patrons about the correct kind of clothing to wear by posting signs near the splash pad. Add a notice on your splash pad’s website to remind patrons about appropriate clothing so they can plan ahead. A routine cleaning and maintenance checklist can prevent filter related shutdowns. If the splash pad is next to a playground, have a rinse station nearby to prevent sand and dirt from getting into filtration systems.
When designing a new splash pad, here are some issues to consider:
What is the surrounding landscape (woods, beaches, hills)?
How close is the nearest playground and what is the safety surfacing?
What is the expected rainfall?
What is the potential for erosion?
What kind of external run-off can you expect?
Is the filter system setup to handle the overflow?
Lastly, for both new and existing splash pads, having a dedicated and trained staff member to check filters on a consistent basis will mitigate major system failures.
Problem: Often referred to as “zero depth pools” splash pads are really more like aquatic playgrounds. And, much like dry playgrounds, we’re learning that concrete surfaces have their limitations. Concrete coatings are hard to clean, hard to patch, and tend to cause abrasion and/or fall injuries. Many splash pads have non-slip surfaces with a concrete outer ring, however this can be just as great of an issue because the concrete outer ring will get just as wet as the splash pad and needs to be considered as part of the overall surface.
Solution: In 2016 we wrote the white paper: Splash Pads Need Safety Surfacing, which highlights exactly why playground surfacing needs to be regulated, wet or dry.
Splash pads are a great value add for communities. Splash pads give kids an accessible way to cool off while keeping active, draw business to various hubs around town, and act as a great addition to a complete aquatics program. And like every other addition to a well-rounded parks and recreation program, splash pads require a bit of tailoring for the best fit.