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Six Flags Hurricane Harbor: One drop at a time

Posted: July 18, 2009 9:50 p.m.
Updated: July 19, 2009 4:55 a.m.

A four-person boat makes a 7.5-story drop from a tunnel on the Tornado water ride at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor water park Friday.

 
When it comes to operating a water park, every drop counts.

So says Tim Burkhart, general manager for Six Flags Magic Mountain and Hurricane Harbor.

"In a water park, keeping the water clean is like keeping a roller coaster on the tracks at a theme park," he said. "Keeping water clean isn't the hardest thing we do, but it is the thing we spend the most time on."

All those water drops in play at Hurricane Harbor amount to about 1.5 million gallons on any given day, according to Roland Miller, Hurricane Harbor park manager.

Under California law, each drop of the 1.5 million gallons must be cleaned every four hours. And all that has to happen without shutting down any of the water slides or the wave pool.

The key is a filtration system that includes 19 filters, Burkhart said.

The system - which came with a price tag of more than $1 million - constantly sucks the water out of the park, runs it through filters, and then spits it back into the system.

"We filter and re-circulate water," Burkhart said, which isn't the same as recycling water.

Recycled water applies to effluent wastewater from a sewer system that is treated and re-used as domestic water.

What happens at Hurricane Harbor is much different.

"The water is filtered through silica (sand), and gravel of different coarseness," Miller said. The gravel and sand grasp organic material and other undesirable elements suspended in the water.

"It's the same thing that happens in spring water, except we use pumps to force the water to percolate," Burkhart said.

With more than 6,000 swimmers wading through the lazy river or gliding down the water slides, the system filters lots of stuff, Burkhart said. "It's really just a big bathtub for 6,000 people," he said.

All the material caught by the system can cause the filters to back up. To prevent that, Hurricane Harbor performs a daily backwash of the system.

"We reverse the pumps and flush all the material out of the system," Burkhart said. The backwash water is siphoned off into a separate pump, where it is treated before being released into the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District system.

Keeping all the drops clean in a water park means keeping plenty of chlorine in the water. Six Flags uses 50,000 gallons of chlorine each year for Hurricane Harbor.

An automated system checks the chlorine levels constantly and pumps in more chlorine if needed.

But automation can't always replace good old-fashioned experience, Burkhart said. "Our lifeguards still perform spot checks with a hand-held chlorine testing kit," he said.

Burkhart and Miller keep a close watch on all the drops in Hurricane Harbor, but even they can't keep all the drops from escaping. "We lose more than 100,000 gallons of water a day," he said.

Most of the water is lost through the backwash process, but there are other ways water leaves the park.

"People carry water on them when they get off the rides soaking wet. That water ends up in a sanitary sewer system," he said.

"We're also losing water through evaporation in 105-degree heat."

With all the water to watch, Miller and Burkhart don't get much time to enjoy the water park or the rides.

"I am a certified lifeguard, and I used to work into the lifeguard rotation at the wave pool just to break up my day," Burkhart said.

"I haven't done that in years. I've been too busy."

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