Maintaining Water Features For Safety And Efficiency

If COVID-19 has caused you to pare down or shut down operations of water features, keep these tips in mind to maintain safe, efficient systems.

By Chris Roy

Facility executives have long been tasked with maintaining on-site water features at the properties they manage. A well-oiled maintenance strategy keeps fountains running properly, ensuring properties look their best while helping to control operating costs and conserve resources. This year, however, COVID-19 threw an extra caveat into the mix for these amenities: Ensuring that fountain display water is kept safe and healthy for people to be around to prevent viral spread. Fortunately, a superior maintenance program can help facility managers meet this new challenge as well.

water features
The atrium fountain at Young Living’s Provo, UT headquarters comprises a reflecting pool in the shape of the company’s logo. (Photo: OTL, Inc.)

With a long history of designing, constructing, and maintaining water features that are both beautiful and highly functional, my firm, OTL, has deep expertise in creating maintenance plans that work for busy facility management teams, especially with the new health and safety mandates stemming from the coronavirus. As such, the company has developed the following maintenance strategies that keep water features safe, cost-effective, and environmentally safe in the COVID-19 era.

Follow Existing Maintenance Processes For Water Cleanliness.
Before the pandemic, protocols had been established to keep the water in fountains clean and clear. The same protocols apply to water cleanliness and safety in the age of the coronavirus.

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Shown here are liquid-chemical sanitization system and display pumps in one of two equipment rooms at Los Angeles’ Civic Park. (Photo: OTL, Inc.)

These commonly implemented processes, which include mechanical filtration, chemical sanitation, and UV sterilization, are highly effective at eliminating pathogens and are used throughout the water features that OTL designs and constructs.

Today’s filtration systems eliminate small particles from the water — some of which are as small as 1 micron. Chemical sanitation is achieved through disinfectants such as chlorine and/or bromine, occasionally ozone, and systems to balance pH, such as acid or CO2 injection. These systems, especially combined with UV radiation, are particularly effective at eliminating bacteria and viruses.

These standard maintenance processes for sanitizing fountains are especially useful at preventing COVID-19 transmission.

Diminish (rather than shut down) Water Feature Operation During Emergency Situations.
In an effort to decrease operating costs when fewer people are visiting a site, as during the pandemic, some commercial real estate stakeholders and facility managers opt to shut down their water features temporarily. Instead, reducing usage and services, when feasible, can save more money in the end.

The costs of shutting down water features, essentially winterizing them, can be significant. A drained water feature can become a dumping ground for garbage, requiring additional deep cleaning, and empty fountains in public places tend to attract vandalism — including broken light fixtures and stolen elements.

Conversely, dialing back usage by running filter pumps at minimal heights removes restart costs and reduces the risk of vandalism.

Of course, stakeholders should evaluate which solution makes the best sense for their particular circumstances. In some cases, shutting down a fountain is absolutely essential for the safety and security of the property and anyone in it. In other cases, such as when there is at least some traffic to the site, reduced operation is a better choice.

Avoid Deferred Maintenance.
While it may be tempting to put water feature maintenance services on hold during a crisis in order to reduce costs, deferred maintenance can ultimately cost stakeholders more.

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At another Provo, UT facility, pumps and filtration equipment at the Nu Skin Innovation Center are installed in a depressed pit within the equipment room. This ensures the pumps are mounted below water level, known as “flooded-suction”, which simplifies plumbing and enhances efficiency. The pit also helps control nuisance water which may spill onto the floor during routine maintenance such as emptying basket strainers or cleaning filters. (Photo: OTL, Inc.)

Without regular attention from caretakers familiar with the features, equipment malfunctions may go unnoticed, leading to breakages that are costly to fix and can place water features out of commission unexpectedly.

In addition, deferring maintenance can lead to reduced sustainability in water features. Potentially thousands of gallons of water could be wasted if, for example, a refill valve gets stuck in the “on” position and no one is monitoring the fountain. A stuck fill valve dilutes the feature’s sanitation chemicals, and automated systems will kick in to counter the effect, wasting expensive chemicals. Similarly, other concerns — including broken pumps, blockages, misplaced lines, and widening valves — could lead to wasted water and energy if a system is not maintained properly.

Instead, modifying maintenance services during these emergencies is a smarter solution. OTL also utilizes automated control systems with built-in alarms that allow systems to be monitored remotely and teams to be alerted in real time if any part of a water feature needs attention.

As we navigate through the pandemic, commercial real estate stakeholders are challenged with maintaining water-based amenities so that they are safe and healthy, with an eye on cost efficiency and sustainability. By following existing protocols for water sanitation, reducing rather than shutting down water feature operation, and avoiding deferred maintenance, facility executives can keep water features operating optimally while remaining within budget and ecologically minded.

Roy is director of creative design for Outside the Lines, Inc. (OTL), a design-build themed construction company based in Anaheim, CA that specializes in creating one-of-a-kind rockwork, water features, and themed environments for retail entertainment, hospitality, gaming, and golfing projects around the globe.