Fountains stay dry in New York

May 03, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK - Pity the Angel of the Waters, waterless for the first time in years.

The Angel, the winged crown of the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, is not being turned on this year, to save water. The same with more than 50 other fountains in parks around the city, and with fountains in plazas like the ones at Lincoln Center and Rockefeller Center or the waterfalls in small parks in Midtown.

And fountains are not the only outdoor landmarks going dry this year. Anything that uses water for "ornamental purposes" was covered by the drought emergency that Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared last month. So the pool beneath the stainless steel Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens is empty, too.

"It's not a happy thing to do," the parks commissioner, Adrian Benepe, said. "It's almost like wartime rationing. It has to be done."

The regulation has left newer fountains looking like something out of a plumbing-supply store, all pipes and valves, dry and rusty, suddenly in full view. The older ones, built with their inner workings hidden, stand like unexpectedly silent statues. If not, said Geoffrey Ryan, a spokesman for the city's Department of Environmental Protection, there would be "a perception issue."

"The reasoning behind the regulation is it drives home the notion of a drought to people when they see a fountain that isn't running," Ryan said.

Benepe may be able to walk across the dry basin of the Bethesda Fountain, as he did one morning recently, but he is swimming in numbers. Filling the fountains his agency runs would take 1.3 million gallons initially. Benepe likes to compare the initial fill-up to loading a giant water gun - a 66,000- gallon squirter in the case of the Bethesda Fountain. Topping the fountains off once they went into operation would use another 41,000 gallons a day.

Those figures reflect a basic fact of fountains: Most of the 55 on city-owned parkland recirculate water, so little is wasted.

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