Guest Column - January 2009
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Green Aquatics: Eco-Friendly Pool Draining

By Terry Arko


n the late '70s The Beach Boys wrote a hip save-the-environment song called "Don't Go Near the Water." Though the lyrics were timely, they seem even more poignant today: "Don't go near the water, don't you think it's sad. What's happened to the water? Our water's going bad… Oceans, rivers, lakes and streams have all been touched by man. The poison floating out to sea, now threatens life on land."

While swimming pools aren't specifically called out in these lyrics, when drained, they can unfortunately become a contributor to the pollution and degradation of our waterways and oceans. As pool professionals, it is imperative that we make every effort possible to minimize the pool's environmental impact, especially when releasing water during draining.

Nutrient Overloading

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 80 percent of the earth's surface is water. Ninety-seven percent of the water on earth is saltwater in oceans and seas. Three percent of the water is fresh, and only 1 percent of that is available for use. The problem is that today much of the water available for use is being threatened by something known as "nutrient overloading."

When lakes, rivers and streams become overwhelmed with the byproducts of increased agriculture and industry, the result is an influx of algae enriching nutrients. The primary culprits in nutrient overloading are nitrogen and phosphates. Phosphates are classified as a primary growth nutrient for algae, and when there is abundance in the waterways, excessive algae is the result. When an overabundance of algae in lakes occurs, dissolved oxygen levels decrease and fish begin to die off. When this nutrient-rich water reaches our oceans via streams and rivers, it causes persistent red tides made up of toxic algae. This toxic algae along ocean shorelines is responsible for killing off marine mammals and fish. It is also known to cause severe skin rashes and even respiratory illness when human contact occurs.

A recent and very vivid example of nutrient overloading is the prolific algae bloom that clogged the 2008 Olympic sailing venues off the coast of Qingdao, China. The blooms occurred in a heavily industrialized region of the Yellow Sea where untreated sewage from costal cities and high levels of nitrates from agricultural and industrial runoff feed into the sea.

Many environmental experts agree that the only way to solve the increasing algae problems is to find ways to limit the amounts of nutrient pollutants entering our lakes, rivers and streams.