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Draining Drumheller: A look behind the fountain’s biennial cleaning

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The fence around Drumheller fountain allows facility workers to effectively clean and repair the fountain without obstructions.

A fence was put up around Drumheller Fountain last Tuesday, marking the beginning of the four to six week process of cleaning its basin.

According to UW Facilities, Drumheller holds approximately 1 million gallons of water and must be cleaned every two years to remove waste and debris that accumulate at the bottom of its pool. Brian Davis, the project manager, discussed the need for routine maintenance of the fountain.

“The fountain is cleaned every two years to remove debris and sediment that can damage the pumping system,” Davis said in an email. “This year, three extra weeks have been added to the shutdown in order to inspect and possibly restore and replace portions of the fountain’s steel infrastructure.”

Drumheller fountain dates back to 1909 as a part of an elaborate water display for the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition. The fountain originally consisted of an outer and inner pool fed by a cascade of water that flowed down Rainier Vista.

The inner pool forms the present Drumheller fountain, while the outer pool still exists underneath the asphalt walkway around the fountain. The water from the fountain is used in several university operations, such as storing water for the campus power plant.

UW Facilities has to coordinate with other university operations to create a schedule.

“During the work, the fountain is considered a construction site,” Davis said. “One of the first tasks is to install safety fencing around the perimeter.”

Once the fence is put up, the fountain is drained, taking several days. Afterward, the basin is cleaned and facilities remove any sediment and debris that has accumulated at the bottom and make any repairs to the pumping system. After making repairs and testing the fountain’s systems, the basin is refilled with fresh water from the university’s domestic water distribution system. Then, the fountains are restarted, the fence is removed, and the iconic duck dock is installed.

“We put it in at the beginning of April,” UW architectural trades lead and the coordinator of the duck ramp, Robin Shoemake, said. “We usually pull it out any time between late June and July.”

Occasionally, people pick up the ducklings and put them in the fountain. Although people think they are helping the ducklings, this causes a problem for them when they are so young and small, the ducklings are unable to climb over the two-foot tall lip of the fountain. The ramp helps ducklings to enter and exit the fountain.

“We do hope that people understand they aren't supposed to put them in the fountain,” Shoemake said. “And to give them a lot of room when they are on the lip.”

An important part of preserving the functionality of Drumheller fountain is minimizing the debris thrown into the water. Facilities regularly removes floating and large submerged debris, some of which are more strange than others.

“In past years, items recovered included sunglasses, a mattress, golf balls, traffic cones, cans, bottles, and coins,” Davis said. “In 2017 we retrieved 20 cellphones.”

Davis urged all passers-by to properly dispose of trash and recyclables to promote the longevity of the fountain.

“Although strainers offer some protection, debris can damage the liner and pumping system,” he said. “It diminishes the appearance and experience of those enjoying the fountain.”

Reach writer Nicole Pasia at Twitter: @NicoleAPasia

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