Hope springs eternal, even if the fountain didn't.
The Seven Canyons Fountain at Liberty Park was meant to be an "interactive water feature" all about Utah's creeks and lakes, its co-creator Stephen Goldsmith said. But when the $425,000 fountain began flowing in 1994, city officials saw it as a place to watch, not wade.
"The city attorney wanted to build a fence around it," Goldsmith said.
Goldsmith recommended a purification system instead, but "they (the Deedee Corradini administration) felt that was redundant." Now "they" are gone, and so is the water from Seven Canyons.
In spring 2000, about a month after the fountain was turned on for the season and families were flocking to it like ducks to a pond, city parks officials stepped in to test the water. They found germs and debris were so thick that the fountain was unsafe for human contact. Chlorine tablets had been tried, but they were no match for the wading crowds.
Seven Canyons needs a $150,000 filtration system powerful enough for a swimming pool, officials said.
"When they tested it, it was off the chart," with coliform bacteria, said Boyd Blackner, an architect on the fountain's design team. "That was diapers, basically."
To put in a filtration system, "we could pull money away from some other thing and say, 'Now we're not doing this,' but that's not good practice," said Rick Graham, city public services director. The city's $6 million parks budget pays for ongoing operations, not for new construction. So, Graham and other city officials "went knocking on doors, to see if we could get the community to help us."
The city approached the OC Tanner Foundation, the fountain's original funder, and now "we're very close to putting together a financing package," Graham said.
He wouldn't yet specify how much is coming from which donors, but said, "We're fortunate to have businesses in this city that are willing to support these things."
The retrofit fountain will be smart as well as clean, he added, because the filtration system will recirculate the 4,000 gallons of water. Mayor Rocky Anderson's zero-waste initiative demanded that, Graham said.
Fountain politics aside, Seven Canyons could reopen in September. "We're hoping people can get some fall wading in before it turns cold," Graham said. Typically the water is turned off in October before it can freeze.
Seven Canyons isn't the city's largest fountain, but it has to be the most fun, because the water features at Abravanel Hall and University Hospital aren't much good for playing in.
The Liberty Park fountain was built to both entice and teach, Graham said: It's a miniature Salt Lake Valley, showing City Creek, Red Butte, Emigration, Parleys, Millcreek, Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood canyons channeling toward the Jordan River and the Great Salt Lake. The latter forms the fountain's pond, a more appealing wading spot than the real thing.
While the valley's "water features" have nourished Salt Lake residents for hundreds of years, the Seven Canyons fountain still won't be be able to accommodate unlimited children, parents and dogs.
"We're all interested in keeping the activity going over there," city parks director Val Pope said. "But we may have to modify it." What he means: Toddlers should be clothed in aquatic diapers.
Pope also hopes people refrain from using Seven Canyons to wash mud off their feet and moderate the number of times they throw sticks in for their dogs to retrieve.