Feature Article - October 2011
Find a printable version here

Maintenance Series: Aquatics

What's in the Water?
Prevent Problems With Proper Pool Maintenance

By Dawn Klingensmith

The Right Staff

Another common maintenance issue besides chemicals and filtration is lack of properly trained staff. It is recommended that a pool manager or operator be certified through a commercial pool operator certification program. However, the Centers for Disease Control analyzed common violations of local codes at aquatics facilities and found that 25 percent of the pools in jurisdictions requiring operators to be trained and certified did not have a trained individual on staff, Lachocki said.

Training is available through a wide variety of venues. The class offered by Sherwood's company, for example, Pool Operation Management, teaches state and federal regulations for pool operation standards such as water testing frequency and acceptable chlorine levels. Also taught are liability and risk management; filtration systems and recirculation; pool chemistry and calculations; water sanitizing and testing; maintenance and troubleshooting; energy conservation; and management and personnel.

Operating a pool safely is not rocket science, "but it does involve some knowledge of chemistry, engineering, microbiology, risk management and math," Lachocki said.

With states and municipalities facing prolonged budget constraints, pool facilities sometimes shortsightedly attempt to "cheat on the level of staffing," Satterly said. For example, if an aquatics director moves on or is let go, the pool manager might be entrusted to "take over," Satterly said, though the manager lacks all the necessary training. While this might save money up front, costly problems can arise when an untrained individual tries to learn on the job.

State officials in South Dakota made news this past summer after cuts in the state budget eliminated the government's ability to monitor municipal water safety, leaving oversight up to city officials who could decide whether or not to test pool water.

Tellingly, in 2011, no pools were shut down due to health concerns related to water quality. In contrast, health officials in 2010 temporarily closed 20 city swimming pools, citing serious health concerns. This suggests that city officials may not be upholding the same standards.

A representative from the Water Quality and Health Council, based in Colorado, told the Rapid City Journal in September that officials who cut the program are being shortsighted because water-borne illnesses will ultimately cost South Dakota more than the $29,469 the state is reportedly saving by ending the monitoring.

State regulators say the decision was made based on the trust that each city pool will follow recommendations to continue testing water every week, though it's not a requirement.

As for Rapid City, state records show its four city-run pools have a fairly clean record, failing just six of 780 weekly water tests over the past five years. City officials told the Rapid City Journal that the clean record "has a lot to do with the city's pool operators (being) certified through a national program" along with hourly spot checks.

Empowered Consumers

As both an informed industry insider and a protective dad, Lachocki takes along pool water test strips whenever he and his family visit an aquatics facility for a day of swimming. "That way I can tell if there's inadequate chlorine and if the pH is in the right range, much to the embarrassment of my teenage kids."

If the water doesn't pass, he rounds up his family and leaves.

"Who has the most to gain or lose from a pool being properly operated? The person getting into the pool," said Lachocki, adding that the test strips only cost about $10. "Empowering the consumer to do a quick test is the best way to hold facilities accountable."

Clearly, not every consumer cares whether pool water is clear. And many don't realize that even crystal clear water can harbor harmful bacteria, so it's not likely that a significant number of swimmers will come armed with higher expectations and test strips anytime soon.

But for the good of all, perhaps pool operators should imagine that every patron will literally "test the waters" and maintain their pools accordingly.