The aquatic choreography of the Bellagio Hotel’s fountains is awe-inspiring. Water is sculpted into graceful formations and launched to unfathomable heights to produce a dynamic work of art. Behind these elegant bursts of water is an elaborate masterpiece of hydraulic engineering—a system of high-tech pumps, piping, vessels, and compressors.
The sheer scale of the installation inspires wonder. In a marvelous, behind-the-scenes account of the system’s mechanics, the Las Vegas Review-Journal explains that the 19-year-old water attraction, which took two years to build, was initially budgeted at $4.5 million, but ultimately cost a staggering $50 million as more and more features were added. The system’s fog manifolds alone have 5,000 nozzles.
The water show’s hydraulic system includes an array of cannons. Oarsmen—robotic nozzles that house a variable-frequency drive, pump, and lights—are programmed to move back and forth across the lake conveying water at specified trajectories. The other cannons—Minishooters, Supershooters, and Extremeshooters—all fire straight up. And, according to Arnold Cabrera, a longtime member of the maintenance staff, the static devices also launch water at varying pressures. “Generally, they go up a foot for every pound per square inch, so the Extremeshooters, which are set at 460 psi, go up about 460 feet, nearly as tall as the hotel.”
The system’s maintenance can be a challenge. Because of the labor involved in moving the huge pieces, staffers do most repairs while equipment is underwater. Since that usually means scuba diving for several hours at a time, they try to do most maintenance during warmer months. A barge with a winch designed to support the 1,800-pound water cannons can also transport them to the maintenance area.
The team also does its best to think ahead with solutions for preventative maintenance. “The Oarsmen are mostly built with mild steel and coated with a tar-based paint that wore off in about a year,” engineer Rod Botelho told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We took them all out, sandblasted, and powder-coated them. They were designed to last five years. We’ve kept them running 19, and we should be able to keep them going for quite a few more.”
Keeping the 20 million gallons of lake water clean involves some complex engineering as well. Because finding a filtration system large enough to circulate 5 million gallons a day proved challenging, the team built a custom cleaning barge which filters about a quarter of the lake’s contents each day. The cleaning barge is equipped with 52 mounted pool filters that help it separate out debris and heavy objects.
The team explains that it deposits any coins collected from the bottom of the lake in an account that distributes the money to several charities.