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Soap suds overflow in Vaillancourt Fountain

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Embarcadero Plaza fountain only recently reactivated

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Some rapscallion decided that the divisive Vaillancourt Fountain at Embarcadero Plaza (formerly Justin Herman Plaza) needed to clean up its act, as the circa-1971 installation overflowed with soap suds Monday, netting the often maligned fount some frothy social media attention.

The fountain has only recently been turned back on, after going dry four years ago to please drought-induced water conservation efforts.

Maybe the suds were a celebratory gesture. Maybe it was a slippery form of protest on a work of public art that the public often loves to hate. Or maybe someone just thought it would be funny.

Admittedly it is. However, despite the seemingly insubstantial nature of the bubbly brew, soap bombing is not necessarily a harmless prank, as fixing a fountain after it receives this treatment can be a costly and time-consuming measure.

One New Jersey city had to spend $3,500 fixing up a municipal fountain after a similar gag in 2017. For a Wisconsin burgh in 2014 the bill reportedly ran tens of thousands of dollars with billable labor hours factored in.

As the landscape management company Grounds Guys explains on its blog, flushing out elements like laundry detergent or bubble bath can be a huge hassle:

One particular event in August 2010 cost $1,000 in materials alone to drain the fountain, clean all surfaces, chemically remove the suds and flush the pipes, not to mention add important chemicals back in to prevent algae growth and keep the water crystal clear.

[...Crews have] to clean out the whole fountain, backwash the filters, rinse, wash and repeat multiple times before all the soap was cleared out of the system. It takes hours of manpower and several days. [...] Not many people know the damage they cause when they pour soap into a fountain.

So don’t do that.

SF Recreation and Parks has not yet responded to questions about how much cleaning up the squeaky clean prank may cost.

Update: Via email, SF Rec & Park spokesperson Tamara Aparton said:

Pranks like this require a substantial amount of work from our Ooerations staff to clean, and likely shortens the life cycle of the circulation pumps at the fountain.

It is possible that we will have to drain, flush and refill the fountain, which is expensive and produces a substantial amount of water waste. We ask that the public be considerate of the City’s workers and the environment.

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