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A splash pad or spray pool is a recreation area, often in a public park, for water play that has little or no standing water. This is said to eliminate the need for lifeguards or other supervision, as there is little risk of drowning. Splash pads have existed in the commercial industry for decades.
Typically there are ground nozzles that spray water upwards out of the splash pad's raindeck. There may also be other water features such as a rainbow (semicircular pipe shower), a mushroom shower, or a tree shower. As well, some splash pads feature movable nozzles similar to those found on fire trucks to allow users to spray others.
The showers and ground nozzles are often controlled by a hand activated-motion sensor, to run for limited time. Typically the water is either freshwater, or recycled and treated water, that is typically treated to at least the same level of quality as swimming pool water standards. These splash pads are often surfaced in textured non-slip concrete or in crumb rubber.
A typical definition was laid out by a 1996 Heath Act in British Columbia which stated that a spray pool is "an artificially constructed depression or basin for use by children, into which potable water is sprayed but not allowed to accumulate in the bottom."
Similarly, the city of Norfolk, Virginia, specifically defines a spray pool as "any shallow manmade structure constructed from materials other than natural earth or soil used for spraying humans with water and which has a drainage area designated to remove the water from the shower or spray nozzles at a rate sufficient to prevent the impounding of water."
Depending upon the strength and arc of the flow, the force of the spray can be relatively strong (especially close to the point where the water emerges) or may have more resemblance to rainfall or even a fine mist. When not combined with a swimming pool or wading pool, a spray pool sometimes has a shallow "splash pool" a few inches deep.
As mentioned, the area beneath a spray pool typically has drain openings so that the water it produces will not flood the surrounding landscape. In some instances, the water collected in these drains is recycled back into the spray mechanism, thereby conserving water. Additionally, the water emanating from the spray nozzles is continually drawn from a fresh water supply as previously mentioned.
Popular in summertime and especially prevalent in urban areas, the spray pool offers an alternative to the practice of opening fire hydrants so that children can play and cool off in the water - a practice which is illegal and has been cited as dangerous in that it lowers the water pressure in a given area and makes firefighting more difficult. A spray pool does not need to be staffed by qualified lifeguards.
Many splash pads are designed to appeal to young children, but a more recent trend has been to design similar spaces that include more sophisticated aquatic play features that appeal to adults as well. For example, the hydraulophone, a musical instrument, similar to a flute or pipe organ, but in which sound is produced by water jets, is an aquatic play feature that appeals to people of all ages including adults and senior citizens, as well as children. An example of this civic form of aquatic play can be found in TELUSCAPE Hydraulophone, the Ontario Science Centre's centerpiece. Like many splash pads, this piece is circular, with various water pipes rising up from the ground, but each of the pipes is an organ pipe, part of a large outdoor pipe organ that can be played by interfering with the flow of water through the jets of a hydraulophone.
More generally, these urban beaches (urbeaches), each form an urban oasis designed so that waterplay is among one of its various usages. Although not limited to waterplay, an urbeach is multi-purpose.
Various kinds of spray to appeal to all ages
Many splash pads have some features such as fine mist, that are designed to be moderate enough for children. Other splash fountains are designed for adults, e.g. for joggers or concert goers to cool off in. The splash fountain in Toronto's city centre, Dundas Square, features 600 spray nozzles that shoot water straight up through stainless steel grilles set right in the middle of the main walkway. The nozzles rise and fall in unison, like the waves on a beach, so that there are times when the water level is low enough for children to also play in the water. The heights of all the fountains rise and fall in unison, in a sinusoidally time varying manner, to create the atmosphere of an urban beach.
The Dundas Square fountains are maintained to a high quality of cleanliness ("pool water or better" standards, according to the maintainers of the facility) because, unlike most city center fountains, these were designed for waterplay. Special nonslip granite slabs were installed to ensure the safety of children and adults alike. Although there are changerooms at level P1 (the parking garage directly under Dundas Square), many people splash spontaneously, without having planned a trip in advance, therefore not having brought a bathing suit. People simply take off their shirts and shoes, roll up their pant legs, and run through. Thus, as is typical of urbeach changing facilities, only one sixth of the washroom space is devoted to use for changing, and the men's and women's washrooms/changerooms in total only comprise six parking spaces worth of space in P1. The architects even had to go to great lengths to justify the use of six revenue-generating parking spots for a facility that does not, in itself, generate revenue.
Placement and management of spray pools varies according to the municipality in which they are located. For example:
- On Boston Common, the so-called "Frog Pond" (which is a public ice-skating rink in winter) becomes a spray pool for children in the summer. The facility is managed by the Boston Common Frog Pond Foundation and staffed by youth workers from the Boston Youth Fund.
- The spray pool at Phillips Park in Aurora, Illinois dates from the 1930s and has closed and reopened several times. It is now part of the Phillips Park Family Aquatic Center next to the Phillips Park Zoo.
- Seattle & King County, Washington has a "Plan Guide for Water Recreation Facilities - Spray Pools" listing very specific considerations such as the use of non-slip surfaces and the positioning of the spray pools so as to "minimize pollution by dust, smoke, soot and other undesirable substances."
- Oregon City, Oregon has a spray pool at the Oregon City Carnegie Center. Formerly run by the city, the center and its programs recently reopened under the auspices of a private organization called Fine Art Smarts.
- North Berwyn Park District in Berwyn, Illinois offers a permit for the use of a city-owned community center and spray pool for birthday parties.
- Provisions of the Health Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 179
- City of Norfolk, Virginia: Codes and Regulations of Interest
- The City of New York
- The Splash Fountain in Krasnodar
-  Open Space management for Emerald Necklace
- City of Boston: Boston Common Spray Pool
- Phillips Park - History Time Line
- Seattle & King County, Pool Plan Review Application
- City of Oregon City: Trail News
- Oregon City Carnegie Center
- North Berwyn Park District