A wa­ter park now?

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - ROBIN AB­CAR­IAN

It makes sense for one city, Robin Ab­car­ian writes.

DUBLIN, Calif. — On the first day of April, for many Cal­i­for­ni­ans, the drought fi­nally hit home.

They saw a photo of their gover­nor in a brown meadow that should have been buried un­der five feet of snow. The snow­pack, which even­tu­ally fills our reser­voirs, had dis­ap­peared. Gov. Jerry Brown an­nounced a 25% manda­tory re­duc­tion in wa­ter use.

In a case of what seemed like spec­tac­u­larly bad tim­ing, Dublin had just bro­ken ground on a new wa­ter park. When the project is com­plete, there will be two pools. A wa­ter play­ground with a fake beach. And six 125-foot wa­ter slides shoot­ing off a main tower.

The head­lines were star­tling: “Dublin Builds Wa­ter Park Amid Drought.” “East Bay Res­i­dents Un­happy Over $36M Wa­ter Park Con­struc­tion.”

Quiet, sub­ur­ban Dublin is not used to bad press. The only other time the city made big news was in 2010, when a can­taloupe-size cannonball fired by the zany science show “Myth­Busters” went off course and ripped through a neigh­bor­hood, tear­ing up a house and land­ing on a mini­van. (No one was hurt.)

That was strange. But in a way, news of the wa­ter park seemed even stranger. How could a city in en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive North­ern Cal­i­for­nia so blithely ig­nore our loom­ing wa­ter dooms­day? How could it act so SoCal?

Even lit­tle kids were per­plexed.

“Kind of weird,” a boy named Evan Rus­coni told a lo­cal TV news re­porter. “I mean it’s a drought. Why are they go­ing to use all that wa­ter for a wa­ter park?”

Phil Dun­can, 41, a fa­ther of two who lives a few blocks from the park, started an on­line pe­ti­tion de­mand­ing the city cease con­struc­tion.

“I just wanted to cre­ate some aware­ness, kick up some noise,” he told me. “I don’t hear any­one clam­or­ing for a wa­ter park.”

But if his goal was to fo­ment op­po­si­tion, the pe­ti­tion has fallen short. Of Dublin’s 55,000 res­i­dents, only 162 have signed. Those who did sign, though, were bru­tal.

“At a time of his­toric drought,” wrote Maria Milenkovic, “it is an ar­ro­gant, tone deaf project, to­tally dis­re­spect­ful of eco­log­i­cal and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns.” Or is it?

Dublin is one of those Cal­i­for­nia towns that was pretty much farm­land un­til the 1960s, when it started to boom along with the rest of the state. In the last 15 years, the pop­u­la­tion has grown nearly 60%.

San Fran­cisco and Sil­i­con Val­ley pro­fes­sion­als who have been priced out of the ex­or­bi­tant real es­tate mar­kets there can eas­ily com­mute to their jobs about 30 miles away. Dublin has two BART sta­tions and lies at the in­ter­sec­tion of two in­ter­state high­ways. The tech com­pany shut­tles that have an­tag­o­nized so many San Fran­cis­cans ruf­fle no feath­ers here, where the av­er­age house­hold in­come is $139,000.

On Wed­nes­day, I chat­ted with two of­fi­cials at Dublin City Hall. Lori Tay­lor is the city’s eco­nomic devel­op­ment direc­tor and dou­bles as its spokes­woman. Paul McCreary is the parks and com­mu­nity ser­vices di­rec- tor.

Un­der­stand­ably, they’re feel­ing a bit stung by the con­tro­versy. Af­ter all, this is re­ally a com­mu­nity aquatic cen­ter — not a wa­ter park on the scale of a Rag­ing Wa­ters. It has been planned for a decade. When the park opens in 2017, drought will­ing, they an­tic­i­pate about 500 daily vis­i­tors, with per­haps as many as 1,000 on very hot sum­mer days.

Dublin, they said, is deeply com­mit­ted to sus­tain­abil­ity. Cars in the City Hall lot park un­der so­lar pan­els. Eighty per­cent of the wa­ter used by the city — on its fields, parks, golf cour­ses and me­di­ans — is re­cy­cled wa­ter, sav­ing more than 150 mil­lion gal­lons each year.

“This city is on the cut­ting edge with our use of re­cy­cled wa­ter,” Tay­lor said.

I con­firmed this with Sue Stephen­son, spokes­woman for the lo­cal wa­ter agency, the Dublin San Ra­mon Ser­vices Dis­trict. Dublin res­i­dents, she said, have cut wa­ter use by an im­pres­sive 36% in the last year. In Cal­i­for­nia, the av­er­age wa­ter use was 91 gal­lons per per­son per day in April, ac­cord­ing to the State Wa­ter Re­sources Con­trol Board. Dublin has av­er­aged less than 70 gal­lons a day for the last year, Stephen­son said.

More than 1,500 res­i­dents, she said, reg­u­larly ir­ri­gate their gar­dens by lug­ging home free re­cy­cled wa­ter from the dis­trict.

“Let’s have an aquatic cen­ter so our com­mu­nity can en­joy them­selves on hot sum­mer days,” Stephen­son said. “Cities all around us have big swim­ming pools or aquatic cen­ters. Why shouldn’t Dublin?”

For an an­swer from an out­side ex­pert, I called Ce­leste Cantú, gen­eral manager of the Santa Ana Wa­ter­shed Project Author­ity, which co­or­di­nates wa­ter agen­cies along the Santa Ana River from Big Bear to Hunt­ing­ton Beach.

Cantú didn’t think the 480,000 potable gal­lons it will take to fill the park’s pools sounded ex­ces­sive.

“It can be done right,” said Cantú, an avid swim­mer who uses a public pool. “In some com­mu­ni­ties, wa­ter is so tight, it’s ab­so­lutely lu­di­crous to even think about build­ing a backyard pool. In oth­ers, their wa­ter source is not as stressed, so maybe that’s the kind of thing you can make an ar­gu­ment for.”

She noted that swim­ming — and ex­er­cise gen­er­ally — is an im­por­tant com­po­nent of public health ef­forts, es­pe­cially in the fight against child­hood obe­sity.

And this, I think, is where Dublin has a very strong case.

The town has one public pool. It is used by a high school swim team, by kids learn­ing to swim and by se­niors tak­ing ex­er­cise classes. It can serve only 2,000 chil­dren a year with lessons, McCreary said. The most re­cent cen­sus found nearly 12,000 kids age 14 and younger in Dublin.

The pool is not deep enough for wa­ter polo or div­ing blocks.

“Our poor high school swim­mers,” McCreary said. “They go to other schools for meets and don’t have the ad­van­tage of hav­ing prac­ticed with div­ing blocks.”

That got to me. In swel­ter­ing places, cool­ing off in a deep public swim­ming pool brings the kind of joy you just don’t get from an air­con­di­tioned mall.

Dublin has done more to save wa­ter than most other cities. It de­serves a break. robin.ab­car­ian@la­times.com Twit­ter: @Ab­car­i­anLAT

‘Cities all around us have big swim­ming pools or aquatic cen­ters. Why shouldn’t Dublin?’

— Sue Stephen­son, spokes­woman for the Dublin San Ra­mon Ser­vices Dis­trict

AN ARTIST’S REN­DER­ING

of the com­mu­nity aquatic cen­ter in Dublin, Calif. The city uses less wa­ter than the statewide av­er­age.

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