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Robin Abcarian: New water park in drought? Let it slide

By Robin Abcarian

An artist’s rendering shows water slides, multiple pools and a water playground that are part of the the Emerald Glen Recreation and Aquatic Complex.
An artist’s rendering shows water slides, multiple pools and a water playground that are part of the the Emerald Glen Recreation and Aquatic Complex. CITY OF DUBLIN

On the first day of April, for many Californians, the drought hit home. They saw a photo of their governor in a brown meadow that should have been buried under 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 ignore our looming water doomsday?

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% because of people being priced out of San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

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 director.

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.

I confirmed this with the Dublin San Ramon Services District. Dublin residents have cut water use by an impressive 36% in the last year. 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 water 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. The most recent census found nearly 12,000 kids age 14 and younger in Dublin.

Dublin has done more to save water than most other cities. It deserves a break.

Robin Abcarian is a Los Angeles Times columnist: Email: robin.abcarian@latimes.com.