The Pima County Health Department has not been formally inspecting a number of public splash pads because they were either improperly permitted or not permitted at all.
The department has identified seven such splash pads, including four with no permit. Some have never received an official health inspection from the Health Department, including the county’s popular Brandi Fenton splash pad on River Road.
While the Health Department doesn’t inspect any facility that doesn’t have a permit, these splash pads do have regular on-site safety procedures in place and are often informally checked by inspectors during regularly scheduled visits to facilities that have permitted pools as well.
David Ludwig, county health inspections chief, said the department is working with splash pad operators to resolve the permit issue and create a schedule of regular inspections, something he hopes to have finished in coming weeks.
“The aquatic directors have been very cooperative and they have assured me they can meet these timelines,” he said. “They are very concerned and want to get this done. It’s positive they are out there protecting the public.”
All locations will be required to submit plans and applications for separate splash-pad permits by Aug. 7, and inspections will begin after that. Any locations that fail to meet this deadline could face a court order to obtain a permit or be forced to close.
According to Ludwig, splash pads are a relatively new recreation trend, arriving in Pima County about 10 years ago as a more sustainable alternative to wading pools. Previously, there was no specific permit for a splash pad, and state and county codes do not address them directly.
Several of the facilities on the list — most of which have pools as well — submitted plans including their splash pads when they first applied for permits. However, permits were either denied because they didn’t meet requirements of a pool or they were granted special-use pool permits, which the county now deems insufficient.
“When we got plans for them (splash pads), we didn’t turn them away,” Ludwig said. “We put them under a ‘special-use pool’ and I can see why previous administrators looked at this as, well, this isn’t a pool because there is no pooling of water.”
Brandi Fenton is one such facility, and its plans were submitted in 2006. At the time, it was determined by Health Department management that a permit was not necessary prior to construction, according to Ludwig.
As a result, the pad has never received a county inspection in the 10 years it has been open.
Grant Bourguet, recreation program manager at Pima County, said that while the county-owned facility has not received a formal Health Department inspection, the public has nothing to be concerned about. The splash pad goes through daily procedures and follows the same safety standards as public pools.
“Though I feel like it’s unfortunate this was not determined from the get-go, we are working with them to fix this paperwork situation and make sure we do have proper permitting,” Bourguet said. “I don’t feel like we are doing anything less than exceeding or meeting the Health Department requirements for such a splash pad.”
Brandi Fenton has a two-tiered sanitization system that keeps chlorine levels balanced. It also has an ultraviolet ray sanitizer where the bulb is replaced every year, though it is only required to do so every four years.
All splash pads are required to have a water recirculation system in place that filters water hourly before it exits the many hoses and nozzles.
Bourguet said the county-owned Picture Rocks splash pad, which is much smaller, has its recirculation tied into the swimming pool at the facility. Water from the pool, which is regularly tested and inspected, goes into a drain and is filtered before reaching the pad.
City of Tucson aquatics manager Billy Sassi said city pools and splash pads have daily safety and water quality procedures in place, including a two-tiered disinfectant system.
“Our pads are set up where if their chemicals are below or above the proper levels, then the whole system won’t activate at all,” Sassi said. “So, no one would be able to use the pad.”
The city additionally tests pad and pool water quality hourly and ensures that gates surrounding them are up to code.
“My main concern would be a splash pad out in the middle of nowhere that may not get regularly get checked — something like that,” Sassi said.
The city will need to resubmit plans for its Naida Jane Baker splash pad, and pay a fee and submit a permit application.
The city’s pads previously listed as special-use pools, including pads at Jacobs pool and Quincie Douglas pool, will need to obtain their own separate splash-pad permits, a process already underway.
Paul Keesler, Oro Valley public works director, said the town’s Oro Valley Aquatic Center originally submitted plans including its pad to the county in about 2013, and was given a permit to cover the facility. Its recirculation system is tied to its two recreational pools, which receive regular inspections by the county, as well as hourly water tests.
An inspector found that the center may need an additional permit, and Keesler said they are going over new requirements emailed to the aquatics managers July 26.
Another location that will need to obtain a separate splash pad permit is Breakers Water Park on the northwest side.
Manager Steve Miklosi said that ever since the Captain Kidd’s Surfari pad has been at the park, it has received regular quality tests and inspections.
“Our system is monitored like all the other attractions at the park,” he said. “We take hourly readings and keep a log of the water chemistry that’s being circulated in the splash pad.”
In addition to local efforts, there is a state effort underway to regulate and inspect Arizona’s splash pads.
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality is working to update its review process for splash pads and establish a robust inspection procedure.
If its changes are approved in August, the county will incorporate them into its code.
“This addition will add splash-pad designation and design requirements into the current State Administrative Code by adopting the national Model Aquatic Health Code,” Ludwig said.
The new code will require splash pads to have the two-tiered chemical balance system, recirculation, proper fencing to keep out animals, UV or ozone sanitization, and will be inspected for any other fall hazards or potential dangers to children, according to Ludwig.