Site visit: Yas Waterworld

Cathal McElroy visits Abu Dhabi's soon-to-complete Yas Waterworld park

ANALYSIS, MEP, Abu dhabi, Abu Dhabi's Yas Waterworld, Aldar properties, Yas waterworld
Yas Waterworld's wave pool is powered by wave generators using pneumatic air blowers.
Yas Waterworld's wave pool is powered by wave generators using pneumatic air blowers.
The fire safety system uses the wave pool as a first backup system and the lazy river as a secondary backup in case of a fire.
The fire safety system uses the wave pool as a first backup system and the lazy river as a secondary backup in case of a fire.
The wave generators power both the wave pool and wave river.
The wave generators power both the wave pool and wave river.

Cathal McElroy visits Abu Dhabi’s Yas Waterworld to get an exclusive glimpse of the long-awaited theme park and the magnificent MEP project that has created it

It’s not often a visit to a construction site makes you feel like a child again. But Yas Waterworld, in all its twisting multi-coloured glory, could regress the most world-weary cynic with its array of harmless high-velocity thrills.

The project to build “the world’s best water park” is nearing completion and is expected to open by the end of 2012: the rides are in place, the water is running, and all that’s left are a few finishing touches to make the site the gleaming funhouse it was conceived to be.


What the paying public will not see, however, are the nuts and bolts of the operation. MEP Middle East gained access to the beating heart of the site to see what will make all this fun run.

Heavily involved in both the design and delivery of the water-park, Tim Mow and Amin Rashmani are the authorities on what the project is trying to achieve and how exactly it is achieving it. Mow is assistant park manager with a wealth of experience in such projects – his career has spanned seven water-parks, three of which he has seen constructed from the ground-up.

Engineer Rashmani is Middle East business manager for Water Technology Inc. which designs and engineers around 50 aquatic facilities per year around the world, up to three of which are major water-parks.

Both men have been onboard from the very early stages and both are confident they are part of delivering something truly special – not just in terms of entertainment but engineering.

Central to this bold claim is the park’s filtration system. “When it comes to aquatics we have 11 different filtration systems for the park,” Rashmani says.

“It’s a closed-loop system: you fill the system once with the water, you get it continuously filtrated, and when it evaporates it gets refilled again based on a sensor. We have 11 different filtration systems in case something goes wrong with one pool and it needs to be shut down – it won’t affect the rest of the park.

These 11 systems are located in three plant rooms – one main plant room that accommodates 75% of the park and then two satellite plant rooms strategically located to minimise the amount of pipe runs on site. This minimises clashes and the need for coordination throughout design and construction.

In these plant rooms we have 16 filters, regenerative media filtration systems – by that I mean they are different from general sand filtration systems. They have their own media and they have their own bumping mechanism so, whenever the filter gets dirty, it has its own bump cycle that pushes the filaments inside the filtration and by that you don’t need to backwash it as much as you back wash other filters.

Typically you have to backwash filters for five or ten minutes every two or three days, depending on the operation, and then that water is all going to waste.

This one you do it once a week and it’s only done by draining the actual filter itself. These filters use 75% less space than the standard filtration system; they use 90% less water; and I believe 30 % less chemicals; and 15% less electricity than the standard filters,” he adds.

From an operator’s perspective, Mow says, “It was a no-brainer when we started spec-ing the equipment. Like the pumps, the filters are considerably more expensive than a standard sand filter. We could have opted for cheaper sand filters from the same manufacturer, but while these are much more expensive, the return on your investment is considerable because of the energy savings.”

As Mow mentions, this high-spec top of the range ethos runs into the park’s pump system which, like the filtration system, is aimed at minimising energy consumption. “We have a total of 10 pumps in the water park, of which 81 pumps are aquatic related,” says Rashmani.

“These are split between the filtration system, the activity supply and the slide supply. All of the pumps have VFDs (variable frequency drives) on them and they all have permanent magnet motors, both of which increase the efficiency and then they reduce the electricity by having the pump self-start.”

Mow adds, “As the operator, we requested the VFDs. Obviously we want to conserve energy and the way we do that, in the slower periods, say in a filtration unit, we can ramp that variable frequency drive down and not expend more energy than what is necessary. Even at night we could do that on a timer method if we wanted to.”

While the pumps and filtration system keep the water circulating and clear, the fight to keep it ultra-clean has seen a chemical treatment system designed which sees the chlorine produced on site.

“We have an onsite chlorine generation system that creates chlorine at a 0.8% solution,” explains Mow. “It’s created by salt, water and electricity. There are two byproducts of that – one is hydrogen gas but that’s let off into the atmosphere and the other is sodium hydrochloride, which is liquid chlorine – liquid bleach at a very low concentration. Typical store-bought chlorine is 12.5%: this is 0.8% so I could wash my hands with it,” he adds.

For “That was done to reduce the embedded energy consumed within transporting chlorine from off-site,” says Rashmani. “They also wanted to have the flexibility in case the chlorine supplier doesn’t come on time: you don’t shut off the park, you actually can generate right then and there.

The chlorine generation system has a storage of four tanks of 17,000 litres and then from that point it distributes chlorine to smaller satellite tanks within each plant room. These tanks have little sensors on them so that when the tanks goes down to a certain level it tells the transfer pump to take the water from the main storage and fill the tanks.

The other ones have sensors on them so that, when the levels of chemicals go down, it takes off generating chlorine as well,” he adds.

“Some of the chemical controllers can monitor two pools at the same time,” Rashmani continues. “They have sensors for Ph levels and chlorine levels, and based on the readings from each pool, which is done automatically, it activates the injection points.

The injection points are through a Venturi system which eliminates the need for a booster pump – it actually creates a vacuum within the system itself to inject chemicals as necessary. This is to provide residual chemicals within the pumps. In addition to that, in pools with high occupancies, in children’s pools and the wet decks, we have an ultraviolet system added to these as a supplemental disinfection to chlorine.”

For Mow, the incorporation of such a system augments the argument that the park is a Mow, the incorporation world-class project, rather than just a national or regional leader. “There are no real water quality standards here, at least in Abu Dhabi. We took the best international standards and best practices and that’s how we spec-ed the equipment to meet the standards we wanted to work to,” he says.

“We actually exceeded in a lot of ways, especially when it comes to UV filtration system,” Rashmani adds. “I think there are only a few [such projects] in the US where they use UV for spray decks but not actually for pools with high occupancies or other pools,” he adds.

Further measures to protect the paying public and staff can be found in the project’s fire safety system. “We’re using the wave pool as a first backup system for any fire on site,” Rashmani explains.

“In case the wave pool dries up, the lazy river is also tied up as a secondary fire backup system from the fire pump, so that eliminates the additional tank required for the water in case there’s a fire inside,” he adds.

The piping system facilitating the fire system and the rest of the park’s water transit not only takes into account the aesthetics of the park itself, but the potential maintenance which the operator might have to carry out in the future.

“All the piping underground is HDPE and that’s done for flexibility of installation and durability in the long-term because it doesn’t crack like UPVC,” Rashmani says.

“All of the aboveground piping is deliberately UPVC so that, if something happens to it, the operator can easily come and modify it – they don’t require a butt fusion welder and all the equipment that comes along with welding HDPE.

“We tried our best to hide all the piping with rockwork and theming and, in cases where it’s almost impossible, we’ve actually painted the pipes to match the colour of whatever is in the background, which is typically a ride,” he adds.

While hidden where possible, the MEP plays an obvious role in the comfort and pleasure of the customer through its control of the pools’ water temperature at the ideal range of 28 to 30 degrees celsius.

As seasonal variation affects the temperature in different ways, gas boilers are required to heat the water in the winter and plate heat exchangers and chilled water to cool it in the summer.

The real fun, however, comes with the MEP’s wave generation system which operates both a wave pool and a wave river. “The wave generation room has got pneumatic air blowers that blow air into a plenum with valves,” Rashmani says.

“That exerts air into the caissons that push the water up and down and so creates waves inside the wave pool. You can run all three of them at the same time; you can run some of them at the same time; and you can play with the type of wave in the wave pool.

“We also have a wave river that is created by turbine pumps. These lift the water up from the wave river tank till it gets to a certain level and then gates open up that gush water directly into the river every ten minutes or so periodically, as opposed to continuous waves in the wave pool,” Rashmani adds.

The electrical system powering this and the rest of the park is equally impressive. Mow says that the total connected load in the park is 12MW, but that they will be using eight to ten at most. Water and electricity do, of course, have a long-established volatile relationship. How then has the park ensured that these two never cross each other’s path?

“We don’t have any electrical that is running over swimming pools in the park – at least high voltage electrical,” Rashmani says.

“We may have some small twelve volts or 24 volt electrical wiring going over the swimming pool but everything above is away from the body of water and all the panels are IP rated. Depending how much water there is going to be if there is any splash, the IP rating varies. We took drastic measures to make sure that the panels and the cabelling, everything that is electrical related, is actually rated for a water environment.”

“If there is one thing they are on top of here it is the actual standard for electrical,” Mow adds. “The methods that they’ve put in place are almost over the top. They’re quite restrictive on what you can and can’t do, regardless of whether it’s a water park or not they’re very particular.”

Controlling all of this highly intricate system of pipes and wiring is the park’s BMS system. “Everything you see here is tied to a BMS system so we can remotely manage the park,” Mow says.

“From external lighting, internal lighting, to chemical controllers to chlorine generation – if it’s not controlled it’s at least monitored by it. Those systems are monitored 24/7,” he adds.

Putting all this together has unsurprisingly been an immense challenge. For both men, the timescale given to execute the project has been testing, especially since the project required an immense amount of coordination between parties spread over three continents.

However, they are both pleasantly surprised at how well the relationship between the various parties has gone, and they can look back with some satisfaction at what they have achieved.

“I think, with everything aside, the fact that this water-park is what it is today, with 2 years and 9 months from the first day we had the initial design meeting, is quite an accomplishment,” Rashmani says. “That tells you how much we put in, how much we had to work together,” he adds.

“The elapsed timeframe is the time in which you would build a flat park with no theming,” Mow says. “But, even so, it is the best water-park I’ve ever been involved with and this is my seventh. I’d say it’s the best in the world.”

Rashmani agrees. “This is the best water park in the world – it’s a fact. With WTI having 30 years experience in designing and building water parks, we know this is the best in the world.”

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