Parents make waves as city wading pools go dry

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Bacterial fears cause city to act, but where will children wade?
by: L.E. BASKOW, The water feature at Kenton Park in North Portland is one of the few to meet sate health department standards.

Sure, it's hot out there. And children in the Northwest Portland, Arbor Lodge and Brooklyn neighborhoods sweating out this summer can't wade for relief.

That's right, wade. Not wait.

Those three neighborhoods are home to parks with wading pools that have remained empty this summer in a preview of next summer, when dozens of city wading pools will go dry.

The problem is new state health regulations that say standing water used by bathers and splashers must be filtered and treated. So wading pools - Portland's parks have 40 of them - are going to be vaporized. Or at least the water in them will be.

The plan is to replace the pools with spray-and-play features that don't create bacterial breeding grounds.

A good plan, in good times. But Portland Parks and Recreation doesn't have the money to change pools into spray areas. That comes to about $300,000 per wading pool, says Nancy Gronowski, senior planner with parks and recreation. The spray features require re-plumbing, water metering and often removal of the concrete from the old wading pools, Gronowski says.

During the past few years, the parks and recreation department has transformed 13 wading pools into spray features. The city budget has enough money to convert one more next year, at Farragut Park in North Portland. The rest of the pools are scheduled to be shut down this winter, unless some yet-to-be-identified funding source can be found.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: L.E. BASKOW

TRIBUNE PHOTO: L.E. BASKOW • The wading pool at Brooklyn Park has been dry all summer.

Not worth fixing

Steve Keifer, public pool specialist for Oregon's Public Health Division, says those shin-high wading pools are more dangerous than most people think. A few years ago, he says, an outbreak from a fountain play area in the Marion County town of Hubbard resulted in at least 60 children becoming sick with shigella, an intestinal disease.

Bad stuff? 'One of the comments I hear a lot of times is I'd rather die than get it again,' Keifer says.

Keifer, a man with a sense of humor and an eye for detail, says the problem isn't little children urinating in the wading pool water. 'More likely it's the other side,' he confides.

Chlorine kills shigella, Keifer says, or at least stops it from spreading. And that's what has some folks in Northwest Portland scratching their heads. The wading pools in Wallace, Arbor Lodge and Brooklyn parks were shut down because they had plumbing problems not worth fixing, considering their imminent demise.

That doesn't make sense to Juliet Hyams, president of the Northwest Portland Neighborhood Association. Hyams is also a mother. In fact, she is a mother who used to have the key to the storeroom in Wallace Park, because she was one of the neighborhood volunteers who were entrusted with putting the parks agency's chlorine bleach in the Wallace Park wading pool every day.

The pool water was treated, Hyams says, and volunteers would continue to treat it if the agency would fix the plumbing. That beats closing the wading pool, she says.

The pools are missed, says Northwest Portland resident Tanya March. March has two children, ages 2 and 7. They live in a condo, so there's no place to put their own backyard wading pool.

March says she and her children have been sweltering, especially during the midsummer streak of 100-degree days.