Environmentally Friendly Pools? Do Tell!
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because using less water is the best way to have more water.
By Nick Dall
Cape Town, South Africa, in 2018, came within one delayed rainy season of running out of tap water.
So I, like 21 percent of Capetonians who also have their own swimming pools, was faced with a moral and practical dilemma: Do I let my pool water slip below the weir and turn ever greener before finally running dry? Or do I find a way to sustain my pool through the hot summer months when it brings so much joy and relief to kids, cousins, aunts and uncles, and neighbors?
The majority of us chose the latter — a decision that Kevin Winter, lead researcher at the University of Cape Town’s Future Water Institute, agrees with. We have to innovate our way out of the dilemma, he says, adding that in-ground, as well as the cheaper above-ground, swimming pools are “great family assets” that also “teach valuable water skills.”
And it’s not enough to just install a pool cover. Ethical pool-ownership starts with finding a sustainable water source that won’t drain your city’s taps; it also includes shelling out for newfangled innovations that can considerably help a planet that’s getting hotter and drier.
In hot, dry places, pools lose roughly an inch of water a week through evaporation.
Step one? Finding a sustainable way of filling it, says Tony de Beer of the National Spa and Pool Institute of South Africa. Groundwater is best provided it’s suitably clear and mineral-free and there’s plenty of it to go around. You can also collect a surprising amount of rainwater by connecting your home’s gutters to a few strategically placed tanks.
The trick is to keep top-ups to the absolute minimum. The first “must,” says de Beer, is to install a pool cover to reduce evaporation by “between 90 and 95 percent.” In hot, dry places like Cape Town, Los Angeles and Perth, Australia, pools lose roughly an inch of water a week through evaporation — during the hottest months, water loss increases. For a typical 15-by-30 pool this is 280 gallons per week.
Pool covers can be a pain to put on and take off — modern systems have greatly reduced the hassle factor, says de Beer — but if you want to swim with a clear conscience they’re a no-brainer. Plus there’s the bonus of keeping the water warmer and cleaner and drastically reducing your chlorine bill.
You can also reduce top-ups by eliminating or at least minimizing the amount of water lost through backwashing — anywhere from 130 to 250 gallons per week. A backwash tank is your best friend when it comes to this: Pump the water into a tank, wait a few days for the muck to settle and then pump the water back into the pool.
Alternative filter media are your other best pal. This involves putting something other than old-fashioned silica sand into the pool filter. Recycled, crushed glass products filter pool water very efficiently, thus greatly reducing the need to backwash. There are also plastic beads designed for this purpose, though De Beer is more impressed by the glass products.
I’ve been using a synthetic sponge product called Eco-Fiber, which requires no backwashing. Instead, you remove the sponges from the filter every few months (a bit of a hack if we’re being honest) and wash them in water. You just need to remember to do it.
EVERY DROP COUNTS
Here are some more water-saving tips:
- Don’t overfill your pool — keep the water level in the middle of the weir.
- No horseplay — it doesn’t just waste water, it’s also when most drownings occur.
- Don’t forget to shut off the hose when filling the pool (duh!).
- Check for leaks, especially if you’re losing more than an inch of water a week.
- Try a liquid pool cover — they’re not nearly as effective as the real deal, but they do reduce evaporation by up to 60 percent.
- Get a robotic pool cleaner — it eliminates the need to backwash, while also saving electricity and water.
Of course, responsible pool ownership isn’t only about conserving water. You should also find ways to reduce your pool’s reliance on electricity and chemicals.
The new breed of variable-speed pool pumps greatly reduces power consumption, says de Beers. There are even models that have photovoltaic panels and run off solar energy.
Ecopools, which rely on a living ecosystem of aquatic plants to filter the water, are a fantastic way of going chemical-free and it’s like swimming in a mountain creek. But there’s a catch: they have a much greater surface area than traditional pools and can’t be covered so, hello, evaporation!
De Beer says the best way of cutting down on the use of chemicals in a traditional pool is to add an ozonator, which extracts ozone from the air and uses it to clean the water, to the filtration system.
With some effort (and, yes, sometimes a fair amount of cash), it’s possible to have a clear conscience and an even clearer swimming pool. Guess it’s about time I washed those Eco-Fibers.
And lest this seem like a bourgeois problem-solution set keep in mind that there are plenty of places with pools, public and private, that could make use of environmentally friendly fixes. Cairo, Egypt seems to be the best example of a place where water is scarce and the metropolis is growing. Chile also, despite all of that coast line, is having a water crisis and because desalination plants are pricey, unconventional systems of water delivery could be just the ticket. Finally, Los Angeles, a place manner born for pool life is also perfectly suited for an eco-redux. So how about it La La Land?
- Nick Dall, OZY Author Contact Nick Dall