Children play in the splash pad at Knowlton Park on State Street in Ellsworth in this undated photo. Water usage at the splash pad decreased this past summer by nearly 230,000 gallons, according to city officials. Credit: Courtesy of City of Ellsworth

Water usage this summer at the splash pad at Knowlton Park, which is essentially a fountain designed for people to play in, declined by about 230,000 gallons from the year before.

That amount is roughly the volume of water 18 people would use in their daily routines during the five months the splash pad is turned on each summer.

The splash pad was on for 140 days this year, operating only during certain daylight hours and when the temperature was 65 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. The water is triggered by weight sensors in the pavement next to the water jets. It automatically shuts off after a few minutes until it is triggered again by someone stepping on a sensor.

Overall, 3,123,865 gallons were used between late May and the end of last week, when it was turned off for the winter.

In 2017, the splash pad used 3,353,516 gallons of water. In 2016, its first full summer of operation after having been installed the prior year, it used 3,274,223 gallons of water.

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At those volumes, the splash pad is estimated to have used on average between 22,000 and 24,000 gallons each day. According to U.S. Geological Survey data, Americans each use roughly 90 gallons of water a day, which means the daily usage of the splash is enough to provide water for around 250 to 260 people.

The decline in total water used of 229,651 gallons translates to an average daily reduction of 1,640 gallons from 2017 to 2018. That’s a savings of enough water for roughly 18 people a day.

The splash pad was installed in late 2015 as part of a renovation of Knowlton Park on State Street, according to Ellsworth City Manager David Cole. The city installed the feature so local residents and visitors could have a place near downtown to go play and cool off on hot summer days but without the city incurring costs similar to that of maintaining a public swimming pool.

He said the volume of water used at the splash pad represents less than 6 percent of the 56 million gallons of treated drinking water the city produces each year and a small percentage of the estimated 37 billion gallons of water typically found in Branch Lake, which the city uses as its water supply.

He said the water used at the splash pad is not recycled but instead drains into nearby Leonard Lake, above the downtown dam on the Union River. The city considered treating and reusing the water when it installed the splash pad three years ago but decided the price tag of $150,000 for such a system was cost-prohibitive.

“It would have been more of a pool-like setup, with the associated risk of contaminants entering a closed system,” Cole said in a recent email. “Rather than jeopardize the health of children using the splash pad, using new, treated water at a very, very low cost was seen as the best option.”

As it is, the city spends about $200 each year to treat the water before it is used at the splash pad and then drains to the lake. If the city instead were to sell that water to local ratepayers, he said, it would generate around $9,000 in revenue for Ellsworth.

“For the enjoyment that large numbers of children get throughout the summer season at the splash pad, an effective price tag of $200 a year seems to be a very good deal.”

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....