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Still Waters Run (Not So) Deep At Zoo’s New Cypress Swamp Exhibit

Fountain engineers use computers to make the Uncle Wilber Fountain interactive.

Black Water Swamp “Look” Belies Busy Water Treatment Vault Buried Nearby

How do you mimic a heavily populated, murky swamp in the middle of a giant aviary, and yet maintain a healthy environment for its feathered inhabitants?

For Hydro Dramatics, the St. Louis-based fountain consulting firm, combining appearance with healthy functionality was the main challenge in completing the water features at the Saint Louis Zoo’s new Edward K. Love Conservation Foundation Cypress Swamp, which is located in the popular 1904 World’s Fair Bird Cage, one of the largest walk-through aviaries in the world.

The exhibit creates the appearance of a “black water” swamp environment, similar to habitats found along the Mississippi River and in wetlands situated throughout southeastern Missouri and southern Illinois. To achieve the proper look, the surface of the water must remain absolutely still. In nature, such an environment provides a rich food source for its inhabitants, but in the artificially enclosed world of the aviary, motionless water could soon become dirty water.

“Because the birds would be drinking and ‘depositing’ within the swamp exhibit, we needed to develop a system that would both filter and treat the water, plus eliminate as much bacteria as possible, all without creating any visible motion,” says Kerry Friedman, vice president and general manager of Hydro Dramatics.

To fulfill these goals, the experts at Hydro Dramatics designed special intake and return fittings to produce as little turbulence as possible. The fittings periodically extract the swamp’s water, run it through a “life support system” and then return it. Multiple outlets allow for quick draining, ensuring that “down time” for periodic maintenance is minimized.

The intricate life support system--consisting of pumps, filters with special media, ultraviolet sanitizers, air compressors, valves and electrical controls, was pre-installed in a fiberglass vault, which then was buried near the water feature. The system utilizes the filters and sanitizers to eliminate the birds’ exposure to the potentially harmful chemicals used in the water treatment process.

Hydro Dramatics worked closely with the landscape architects at SWT Associates, the designer of the Cypress Swamp, to determine the best methods for creating a swamp-like appearance in all visible areas of the pool. One challenge was figuring out how to replicate the look of black water without using dyes that might interfere with the ultraviolet sanitizers. Friedman and his team suggested simply painting the bottom and sides of the pools black, providing the illusion of depth. To simulate the formation of swamp gases, Hydro Dramatics designed airlines between the pool and the vault’s compressors; the airlines provide the desired bubbly appearance on the water surface. The Zoo’s Interpretive Department also assisted by devising exhibit elements to camouflage the stainless steel strainer baskets that are used in the pool area as part of the filtration system.

Visitors familiar with the original Bird Cage will likely notice the major changes made to the exhibit, which now include new pathways at street level, a new ‘floating bridge’ that crosses over the water features, and an observation deck. Sounds of a natural swamp emanate throughout the exhibit
from an audio system. Interactive areas and educational signage offer visitors an in-depth look at the exhibit’s inhabitants--16 species of birds native to area wetlands.

In addition to Friedman, other Hydro Dramatics team members include Dan Heinlein, Terry Spain and Anne Gunn. William Tao & Associates served as civil engineer and Tarlton Corp. was construction manager. Bob Raeker Plumbing was the plumbing installer.

Established in 1972, Hydro Dramatics is a division of Missouri Machinery & Engineering Co., Inc. This affiliation enhances Hydro Dramatics technological and fountain creative expertise and provides its design team with direct access to the fabrication/manufacturing capabilities needed to tackle the most sophisticated fountain projects.

Hydro Dramatics created the Gateway Geyser, the world’s tallest fountain, on the East St. Louis riverfront. In addition to creating fountains across the United States, Hydro Dramatics provides fountain equipment overseas, and designed and created a fountain for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia. Among the many Hydro Dramatics projects in St. Louis are the new water features at the Grand Basin and Jewel Box in Forest Park, and the fountains at the Missouri Botanical Garden and at Saint Louis University.


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