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Cleaner, Clearer, Cheaper

2012-11-01, Department, by Elizabeth Beard

New technology improves water and air quality while lowering costs.Aquatics facilities that may have just come into compliance with this spring’s new ADA rules for access are now gearing up for 2013’s finalization of the Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC), a set of guidelines being developed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although as the name suggests, the MAHC is a model to be used in developing state regulations and hence is not immediately enforceable, its effects are expected to filter down over the next several years as its recommendations are incorporated in whole or in part into state regulations.

The good news is that installing new technology that may help in meeting those future regulations will bring immediate benefits in terms of bather comfort and safety, as well as reducing labor and energy costs. Some technologies that have been around for a few years but are gaining traction in an era of both budget tightening and an increased awareness of swimmer safety and comfort include:

-          Ultraviolet (UV) sanitation systems;

-          Variable frequency drives for pool pumps; and

-          Integrated systems that tie filtration, disinfection, and ventilation into one system driven by automated water quality monitoring technology.

Ultraviolet Becomes More Visible 

“Safety is always the first motivator,” says Joe Leary, aquatics director of the Reston Community Center in Reston, Virginia, which includes an indoor lap pool and hot tub. “When I first heard about UV back in 2000, the big attraction was that it had a 99.97 percent kill rate for all microbes and viruses and bacteria, so my first thought was the hot tub…Then I found out about the chloramine destruct benefits from UV. For us, chloramine was a huge issue in our year-round, indoor facility. I had a big problem with chloramines and swimmers’ lungs and eye irritation. That’s what motivated me to put UV on my main pool first. The result was instant and dramatic—it was huge.”

Leary has not seen much reduction in chemical use. Because a UV system tends to break down chlorine along with the harmful chlorine byproducts and microbes, he needs to use the same amount of chlorine even though he is maintaining it at a lower level. Still, the water in his pool is much cleaner and bather satisfaction is much higher.

 “I do strongly recommend UV,” Leary says. “It’s expensive, but pools are expensive. From an operator’s standpoint, peace of mind is priceless.”

In nearby Gaithersburg, Maryland, UV was also specified for a large outdoor recreational pool under renovation. Jennifer Mogus, aquatics manager for the City of Gaithersburg, says the renovations involved converting a baby pool into a splash pool with multiple spray features, so UV came into consideration early on.

“We were lucky in that the budget allowed us to get UV for both outdoor pools,” Mogus says. “I think that the investment is well worth it in the long run in the fact that it is keeping your bathers safe…If you make your case clear to officials that are approving your budget that this is a safety concern and you’ve got your research to back it up, they’re on board.”

Mogus thinks UV proved its worth as a secondary layer of protection during very high bather loads this summer after the water park’s grand reopening in May 2012. And installation of the UV system for the splash pad anticipates likely recommendations coming from CDC in the MAHC.

“There is a very, very strong recommendation that any pool that has, in essence, agitated water where there is high potential for kids in swim diapers or incontinent children in the water, that those bodies of water have a mandatory UV or ozone as a supplemental disinfection process to the chlorine,” says Robert Kappel, regional sales manager for Prominent Fluid Controls. “If the CDC comes out with some regulations like that, most of the time states just adopt it in whole because then they have the cover of a federal agency.”

Variable Frequency for Variable Loads 

In contrast to Gaithersburg’s high bather loads, Jim King, swimming pool technical supervisor for the Los Angeles Unified School District in California, is faced with very intermittent loads at some of the high school competition pools he manages.

“We have gone with variable frequency drives on our motors,” King says. “Basically it just modulates the speed of the motor….You get longer cycles between backwashings, which saves you water. You also can run the motor slower when the filter is clean so it saves you a lot of money…and also it’s programmed in to slow down at night too.”

King estimates a 25 percent energy savings at his pools where the VFDs have been installed. Kappel notes that VFDs have the potential to save large aquatics facilities up to $50,000 per year in electrical energy costs, as long as the local health department allows changes in flow rates.

“That’s not a drop in the bucket—that’s meaningful money. You can see the return on your investment in less than a year,” Kappel adds.

Dennis Berkshire, director of client services for Aquatic Design Group, an architectural and engineering design firm for commercial pools, notes that facilities should consider not only the lost water, but the lost heat when backwashing.

“If you clean a filter system and backwash 5,000 gallons of water out of a pool, that’s 5,000 gallons worth of heat and balance chemicals that are lost as well,” Berkshire says.

The L.A. school system has also invested in new, more efficient boilers to save on natural gas costs. And the new boilers feature self-diagnostic systems that shut the boiler down if it gets too hot—a crucial feature in an era of reduced preventative maintenance budgets, King says.

From Integrated Systems to Mobile Apps 

Perhaps the greatest combination of savings and quality control can be found in integrated systems that coordinate chemical control systems, UV systems, filtration rates, and ventilation to automatically provide optimum control to match current conditions at the pool.

“One of the things we’re seeing is the advent of reliable and accurate electronic measurements for swimming pool chemistry…A combined chlorine reading can be utilized to turn peripheral equipment up or down, like a UV system,” Kappel says. “You can turn it up only when you need to combat the byproducts when you have a heavy bather load…You can send the same signal to a HVAC system which will go ahead and bring in more fresh air when you have a lot of bather load and then ramp it back down when you don’t. We’re   seeing some real-time control of external equipment that up to this point has been operating independently of the actual conditions in the pool water. So this is nice to finally gain some synergies by connecting equipment in an intelligent way.”

Another benefit of automated systems is the ability to monitor the system remotely. For example, such a system allows Joe Leary to monitor and control his pool in Reston from his home or office, 24/7, while Jim King has just started taking advantage of the L.A. school system’s LAN network to begin monitoring some of his 25 pools remotely. At Duffield Aquatics, Inc., a consulting, sales, and service company for commercial and institutional pools, Steven Janorschke hears his clients asking for even more mobility—systems that text or email alarm notifications to cell phones as well as apps that allow users to check on what their chemical levels are doing.

“I think the number-one new trend is wireless communication,” Janorschke says. “People want to be able to run their facilities from their iPhones, iPads, or at least remotely from their office…We can retrofit some older chemical controls but not all, maybe about half of them.”

Such remote systems may also prove useful under the MAHC, according to Berkshire, who chaired one of the MAHC technical subcommittees. He predicts that the MAHC will recommend for a certified operator to be assigned to every public swimming pool, though not necessarily always be located on site. However, he suggests considering the level of sophistication of the operators and the intention of automating, since he has seen some automated facilities still being operated manually anyway.

“The other side of that is, because you’ve put in automated equipment, that does not mean that it becomes this automated, hands-off facility,” Berkshire continues. “The fact is these swimming pools are living, breathing organisms…every one is different and reacts differently. You can’t put the automation in and then say we can walk away and forget it. Each one will require manual intervention and oversight.”

Back in Reston, Joe Leary notes that the justification MAHC provides for upgrading systems can be a good thing.

“A savvy operator can look at the Model Aquatic Health Code as a good guideline and can build an argument to automate and upgrade all their systems,” Leary says. “The sooner the facilities get online, the better for everybody, patrons included.”


Elizabeth Beardis Managing Editor of Parks & Recreation ( 


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As a Reston Resident for over 30 years and avid swimmer, I am really surprised that you would cite the Reston Community Center pool as a shining example of operational success. The pool has continually had water quality issues and increasingly bad air quality issues that Joe and the RCC refuse to address. It's sad that I subsidize the pool through my taxes but have to limit my swims there due to the air quality. I am glad Joe can control the pool from his home office, but can't seem to fix the air that has been a problem for the last 5 years.