Cleaner, Clearer, Cheaper
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
“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
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.
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
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 Beard is Managing Editor of Parks & Recreation (email@example.com).