The whale tail may not be a fountain after all

The whale tail fountain is high and dry Wednesday after the city turned off the water last weekend.
The whale tail fountain is high and dry Wednesday after the city turned off the water last weekend. Dana Jensen/The Day Buy Photo

New London - Pool or fountain?

Whatever the state Department of Health decides on the whale tail sculpture at the foot of State Street will determine when and if the water will be turned back on.

"It was built as a fountain, but it's being used as a pool,'' said Keith Chapman, the city's public works director, who made the decision Monday to turn off the water after a man was discovered using the flowing water as a bathroom.

A pool would have to meet a more intensive set of regulations than a fountain, including more frequent monitoring of the water.

The 7,000-pound bronze whale sculpture, heralded as the centerpiece of a $10 million restoration of the Parade plaza, was shut down after a homeless man was discovered washing himself off in the fountain after defecating in his clothes. The story was picked up by national and international media.

"It's a blemish to the city,'' Chapman said. "But these things happen."

The fountain, which recycles 100 gallons of chlorinated water, was turned on two weeks ago during a festive community dedication that included children running through the flowing water.

On Friday morning, after the man using the fountain was arrested, city workers washed down the area and changed the filter. A farmers market scheduled for noon that same day went on as planned. The fountain ran all weekend.

On Monday morning public works crews noticed the water wasn't flowing freely out of the flukes of the whale and discovered the filter was filled with debris. Chapman turned off the water and contacted the Ledge Light Health District.

"It's a beautiful structure. It's too bad a couple of people have to ruin it for everyone,'' he said.

The city is waiting on a decision from the state, which is expected to inspect the site during the next few days.

Dave Sugrue, manager of Ocean Beach Park, which has an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a kiddie spray park, said it appears the whale fountain will have to be treated like a pool.

"If people can touch the water it's a pool,'' he said. "If water can get in the eyes, the mouth and other areas, it's considered a pool."

The spray park at the beach, which also is a closed system with a couple of thousand gallons of recycled water, is tested every two hours, Sugrue said. It is closely monitored by beach staff and only operates during the day. Also, the state requires a certified pool operator to be available while the pool and spray park are open, he said. Sugrue and one other beach worker have taken the two-day class and are certified.

Chapman said when the fountain is turned back on, it will be only for a limited time during the day. It had been running 24 hours. The city will also post signs in English and Spanish advising people not to drink the water or bathe in it. Surveillance cameras also will be placed on the Water Street Parking Garage to monitor the area.

Public Works is also looking into building a low block wall around the fountain and changing it from recycled water to a continuous flow of fresh water.

"It's disappointing,'' said City Councilor Michael Buscetto III, who has alleged that people have been urinating and washing off cuts in the water.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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