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Theme parks in Europe: when water is an attraction

  • Theme parks in Europe: when water is an attraction
    Lake where the Nautilus attraction is found, Disneyland Paris
  • Did you ever wonder how much water is needed to run a theme park every single day of the year? All those fountains, all those water-based attractions which make us scream out of joy. All the restaurants, the hotels, the public restrooms…

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Contrary to popular belief, theme parks are not just a kid thing; an important part of Europeans’ leisure time is spent in these kind of places, but how can they ensure proper water management in an environment of increasing entertainment and fun?

Surely everyone that reads this article has been to an amusement park at least once in their lifetime.

Ensuring fun for both children and grown-ups, European amusement parks generate many profits for the owner groups, not only from ticket sales but also from hotels and restaurants. In fact, the revenue from the theme parks and resorts of The Walt Disney Company increased by 8% at the end of the 2018 fiscal year, reaching 15.8 billion euros, a growth mainly resulting from the increased number of visitors to Disneyland Paris.

However, not everything is roller coasters and themed merry-go-rounds: managing and running an amusement park entails a very high consumption of water and environmental resources.

There is no doubt that, immersed as we are in an unparalleled environmental crisis, we need to tackle major challenges and make a greater effort to achieve environmental sustainability in all areas of the leisure industry.

Amusement parks are part of it, and some of the main theme parks in Europe are active in environmental stewardship and have implemented different strategies and measures to safeguard the most precious resource we have without compromising fun.

We need to tackle major challenges and make a greater effort to achieve environmental sustainability in all areas of the leisure industry

Amusement parks, the gardens with more water in all of Europe

Pirates of the Caribbean attraction in Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris opened on April 12, 1992. Located in Marne-la-Vallée, 32 kilometres from Paris, this Disney theme park occupies a surface area of 1,942 hectares and includes more than 40 attractions, divided into two theme parks. More than 14 million visitors speak for its success year after year.

In addition to its famous attractions, Disneyland Paris is the largest garden in Europe, with 35,000 trees, more than 964,360 m2 of lawn and 5,400 m2 of flower beds. Watering that green mantle to keep it in top condition and doing it sustainably is no easy task.

Since the park opened, the Department of Nature and Environment has actively contributed to the development of Disneyland Paris, working jointly with the park’s specialists and gardeners to ensure park maintenance is as sound as possible, sustainable and does not waste a drop of water.

Some of the main theme parks in Europe have implemented strategies to safeguard the most precious resource without compromising fun

Hence, Disneyland Paris has an irrigation system which is unique in Europe. The system is controlled by a central computer, something that enables effective control and optimal irrigation, encompassing 6,000 kilometres of irrigation system and 40,000 sprinklers.

Elsewhere, Port Aventura, in Spain, uses reclaimed water for irrigation. It uses treated wastewater that has undergone tertiary treatment at the Vila-seca and Salou Wastewater Treatment Plant, and which since 1996 is used exclusively to water the gardens and plants in the complex.

However, using this source of water is conditional upon its quality, because there are times when water from the wastewater treatment plant is not suitable for irrigation, either because of its conductivity (salt concentration), biological pollution, or turbidity. In that case, the park uses alternate water sources to ensure the survival of vegetation.

Environmental responsibility in water-based recreation

Poseidon attraction in Europa-Park, Germany

The Tivoli Gardens, located in downtown Copenhagen, receive more than 4 million visits per year. Opened in 1843, Tivoli is the oldest amusement park in the world. This, nevertheless, has not been a problem to stay updated and adapt their entertainment strategy to sustainability and environmental stewardship.

Tivoli is committed to reducing its negative environmental impact as much as possible and applies firmly and consistently its respect for the environment. Through its collaboration with environmental and climate-oriented organisations, the park is always seeking opportunities for improvement in areas such as energy, waste and chemicals. Every year they issue a corporate social responsibility report where they show their annual progress in these key areas.

Moreover, the park tries to be aware of water-related resources. In 2018, and resulting from an increase in business activity, water consumption went up. It added up to the fact that in the summer of 2018 the city beat records in terms of high temperatures and lack of moisture, which translated into increased irrigation needs for the flowers and plants in the gardens, an essential part of the Tivoli experience.

Disneyland Paris has a unique irrigation system in Europe: controlled by a computer, it enables effective control and optimal irrigation

Despite the new attractions and buildings, water consumption decreased in 2019 in comparison with 2018, mainly thanks to a cooler summer than the one in 2018, and a milder winter.

Meanwhile, as the most important amusement park in Europe, Disneyland Paris is strongly committed to environmental management; throughout the year, the company implements an action plan focused on six areas: reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting and enriching biodiversity, conserving water resources, moving towards sustainable waste management, supporting global actions to preserve the environment for the future, and developing a responsible supply chain. As an example of its firm commitment, the park has achieved its objective of reducing drinking water consumption by 16% between 2013 and 2018.

Moreover, each April, Disneyland Paris celebrates Earth Month with a double goal: on one hand, to celebrate the steps the resort has implemented so far to achieve its sustainability objectives, and on the other hand, to encourage and celebrate initiatives to promote environmental stewardship and water use awareness among employees and visitors.

It is precisely employees and visitors who have a very important role when it comes to water conservation in these facilities.

Technology and architecture to take advantage of our water resources

Port Aventura is the most visited amusement park in Spain. Located in Salou, in the province of Tarragona, it opened in 1995 and is one of the main tourist attractions in that part of the Mediterranean coast, known as “Costa Dorada”.

Water is essential for the running and theming of the park, and they are perfectly aware that water is a key factor for socio-economic, industrial and tourist development in the area.

Port Aventura was designed on sloping terrain, with the highest point in the China theme area. Whereas the design appears to be due to aesthetic reasons, it becomes an added value when we learn that, thanks to it, the heavy rainfall which sometimes occurs in the Mediterranean coast fills the lake located in the central Mediterranean area, one of the park’s unique features. That water is also used to fill the most iconic water-based attractions: Tutuki Splash and Silver River.

Tivoli is committed to reducing its negative environmental impact and applies firmly and consistently its respect for the environment

Rainfall has traditionally been a very important part of water management. However, we should note that this rainfall can be used because the resort has a water network with separate wastewater and stormwater sewers.

Technology also plays a crucial role in the use of water in amusement parks. The innovative technology used in the Rulantica water park in Germany ensures that both energy and water use are resource-friendly. Water is pumped at night from “Vildstrøm” (one of the park’s attractions, a great river with rapids) to a submarine tank. This infrastructure is waterproof and maintains a constant temperature, acting as a thermos.

This way, the water can be easily returned every day to the wild river through a pumping system, maintaining the temperature and avoiding using more water and energy.

Educating to promote water stewardship


Atlantica attraction in Europa-Park, Germany

The largest theme park in Germany, Europa-Park, is one of the largest in Europe and is considered by experts and visitors as one of the best ones. Opened in 1975, this amusement park has 15 different areas, and in November of last year, it opened its water park, known as Rulantica.

From the start and throughout its development, Rulantica was built ensuring the precise integration of the most sophisticated technical facilities. Environmental awareness ─ considered a key aspect of sustainable company management ─ was key in this process.

Water is an essential element for Europa-Park, more so in the new Rulantica water park, and the resort wants to show to as many people as possible that water is a precious and scarce resource, and it must be used responsibly and sustainably.

Thus, in the “Hansgrohe Water Playground” on Lítill island, a water world for kids with an Icelandic theme, everything is about water. In this area, we find a “Discoverers Cave”, the perfect place for youngsters to learn about water in all different shapes. Children are taught to be aware and responsible for this vital resource interactively, with fun data, adapted to their age, while grown-ups learn as well.

A wastewater treatment plant to address water demand for recreational purposes

Most amusement parks are not just a series of attractions and fast-food booths. This type of entertainment has evolved to offer the visitor a comprehensive experience and now it is common for amusement parks to be surrounded by other related entertainment facilities. This includes all types of restaurants, shopping centres, gift shops, spas and even golf courses, which are surrounded by different hotels to stay overnight and continue having fun the next day.

The increase in demand and the type of use of the facilities mean it is necessary to integrate not only efficient waste management but also efficient management of the water resources used in each area.

Disneyland Paris is the only theme park in Europe that has its own wastewater treatment plant, which covers the two theme parks and the Disneyland Hotel, one of the major hotels in the park. The plant produces 2,100 m3 of water per day, used to supply the waterways in the Disney parks and Disney Village (a shopping and entertainment area), and the cooling towers of the Energy Centre of the complex. Almost all the water treated and purified can be reused for different purposes, such as irrigating green areas or washing roads and pathways.

Furthermore, in 2018 the wastewater treatment plant was fitted with innovative technology to reduce the level of phosphorous in the treated and purified water, and has been recently connected to Golf Disneyland to create an irrigation system for the golf course.

We may note that the treated water is not used for drinking, and it undergoes several disinfection processes to ensure it is safe to be used for other purposes.

In Port Aventura, proper water management is a major challenge. Thus, the entire resort was designed with separate sewer networks that allow conveying different types of water to be used for the most appropriate purposes.

It is precisely employees and visitors who have a very important role when it comes to water conservation in these facilities

Hence, all wastewater generated in the resort is conveyed by a sewerage network to the Vila-seca y Salou wastewater treatment plant, where is undergoes a tertiary treatment that reclaims the water so it can be used for irrigation in the resort, as well as in some gardens and parks in the municipality of Vila-seca.

The water that Port Aventura withdraws from Vila-seca undergoes a reverse osmosis process which turns it into desalinated non-potable water, suitable for irrigation.

In addition, the resort voluntarily carries out internal water quality monitoring of the water discharged into the four existing sewers at Vila-seca, General (Salou), Hotel el Paso and Hotel Caribe. This generates a dataset available for water management that enables any improvement action deemed necessary.

With Corporate Social Responsibility in mind and with the looming threat of climate change, it seems times are changing and environmental stewardship and water and energy savings seem to be a trend in the management of amusement parks in Europe.

Caring for our water resources is not at odds with enjoying the adrenaline of riding a roller coaster at 110 km/hour, but will the efforts by these resorts be enough to safeguard our water resources?

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