Technology Helps Improve Operations
By Barry Gertz
Swimming pools have always been part of the summer to-do list. But pools are becoming increasingly popular year-round. The addition of recreational elements like splash play areas and mini-waterparks are causing a renewed interest in municipal pools, YMCAs and similar facilities.
According to Recreation Management's 2009 State of the Industry Report, more than half (54.9 percent) of those polled said their facility included an aquatic component. In fact, three of the top four biggest changes in the survey from the previous year, were increases in outdoor aquatic facilities, splash play areas and waterparks (up 10.1 percent).
Facility operators know that in addition to installing aquatic recreational elements they must improve efficiency. So how does a facility increase efficiency, handle increased bather loads and comply with stricter environmental laws, all at a time of budget and staff cuts? Technology.
Technology is making recreational swimming safer for swimmers, cleaner for the environment and more accessible to people worldwide. In addition, new technologies allow facilities to reduce, reuse and recycle water. One of the key elements is the use of automatic regenerative media filters (RMF) instead of high-rate sand filtration. This filtration system requires no backwashing, saving up to 90 percent of waste water and 40 percent of electricity.
Every day, more and more cities worldwide are requiring new construction to be "green." Whether building a new facility or just refurbishing an existing park, regenerative media filters can help builders achieve that goal—including earning LEED certification points.
RMF technology operates on the premise of surface filtration, and offers tremendous dirt holding capacity, which extends filter cycles to weeks or even months. Extended filter cycles and automatic operation results in less routine maintenance, saving labor costs. The reduction in backwash water also means that less "make-up" water needs to be reheated and retreated with chemicals. Operators report more than 30 percent savings on chemicals and heating fuel. Fewer chemicals and less fuel saves money and increases efficiency.
Since there is so much less waste water, it becomes critical to maintain optimum pool water quality. Regenerative media filters can remove particles down to 1 micron. This allows for more than 99.9 percent of cryptosporidium to be removed in a single pass. Crypto outbreaks are one of the leading causes of pool closures nationwide. Furthermore, RMF media is safe to drain to the municipal sewer, eliminating the need for holding tanks or the concern of waste flow rate restrictions.
Many operators have been installing UV sanitation systems to help combat recreational waterborne illnesses (RWIs). The superfine filtration provided by RMF filters also increases UV sanitation efficiency. A regenerative media filter combined with a UV sanitation system becomes the best defense against RWIs. Additionally, the combination of these two systems allows for reduced chlorine usage.
Additional features of RMF technology that improve efficiency are reduced electricity usage and saving on construction costs. Regenerative media filters operate at a lower head (TDH) compared to traditional sand filters, saving motor horsepower. When paired with a variable frequency drive (VFD), electrical usage may be cut up to 40 percent. The RMF mechanical footprint requires less than one quarter the space occupied by sand filters. A smaller mechanical room, smaller waste line to sewer and less labor significantly saves on construction costs.
Many community centers, YMCAs, JCCs and Kroc centers are discovering the benefits of regenerative media filters. Opened in March 2009, the aquatics facility at East Portland Community Center in Portland, Ore., became the first of its kind to achieve LEED Platinum certification, the highest level from the U.S. Green Building Council rating system. Among the "green" technologies used on the pools are regenerative media filters, VFDs on all pumps and a UV sanitation system.
Great Wolf Lodge Resorts have been using regenerative media filtration systems since 2004. According to Steve Shattuck, the resort chain's communications director, since installing regenerative media filters, the waterparks use 80 to 90 percent less water than two earlier installations that include sand filters.
Because the filtration was so efficient, management at Great Wolf Lodge Resorts noticed that the hotel portion of the resorts used twice as much water per day as the waterpark components—not something anyone would expect. As a result, Great Wolf Lodge Resorts launched Project Green Wolf, which included rewriting nearly every page of its operational procedures manuals. Regenerative media filtration systems were written in as the new standard in order to maximize recycling and reuse, as well as reducing chemical use in the waterparks.
Despite the economy, nearly two-thirds of respondents polled in the 2009 State of the Industry Report revealed plans for new or renovated facilities. Improvements and additions cannot be put off for fear of being left behind following an economic upturn. The number-one planned additional feature across the board is splash play areas. Moreover, the top concern of respondents now and over the next few years is reported to be equipment and facility maintenance.
These factors combine to make it more necessary than ever for facilities to install the most efficient systems for their money. The environmental rules will get stricter, the bather loads will increase and the budgets will remain tight. However, with up-to-date technologies in place, facilities can reduce energy consumption, run "greener," attract more swimmers and improve the bottom line.
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