California's brutal drought may seem like a fading memory. Today, anyone can turn on the spigots with some abandon -- whether to wash a car, irrigate a lawn or just splash around in the kiddie pool.
But even as the rain poured, one Mountain View water-saving measure remained firmly in place -- the city's downtown fountain stayed dry as a bone. Since 2014, the fountain at the city's Civic Center Plaza has been little more than an empty black basin, making it perhaps the city's most prominent symbol of when water was in short supply.
That finally changed earlier this month, when city officials cranked the fountain back on. They would have restored it much sooner, but it turned out the fountain had a backlog of maintenance problems from being dry for so long, said Dawn Cameron, the city's assistant public works director.
"We tried to turn it back on, but we found that the bottom of the fountain had deteriorated," she said. "The bottom of the fountain wasn't supposed to be exposed to the sun for so long."
The fountain's base had sprung a leak and it was slowly dripping water down onto the cars parked below in the city's public garage. It wasn't a huge amount of water, Cameron said, but it was enough that city engineers decided they needed to plug the leak before turning the waterworks back on.
One delay led to another. The city had to wait for a budget and resources to free up, and then public works engineers had to research the right method for sealing the base. The project went out to competitive bidding, and a contractor was hired for $28,000. Then work had to be postponed for months due to a series of events at the Civic Center Plaza.
Then more problems emerged. The fountain piping was heavily damaged, and about half of the water nozzles were broken off and had to be replaced. City workers also decided they needed to vacuum out a pile of sand and debris that accumulated at the bottom.
The lengthy repairs were completed in recent weeks, and the fountain was finally ready for showtime.
But it might not be that long before the city needs to shut off the fountain again, since more droughts are likely to come in the future. In that event, city officials at least learned a few lessons from the experience, Cameron said.
"If a drought ever happens again, then we need to at least put a cover on the fountain," she said. "Or fill it with dirt."