Natural swimming pools/ponds began in Austria, Europe in the early 1980’s, by the inventor Werner Gamerith. Natural swimming ponds can be works of art, offering far more design possibilities than “traditional chemical” pools. Instead of rectangular shapes, Natural Swimming Ponds incorporate the harmony and beauty of nature.
But the real case to be made for the Natural Swimming Pond is “sustainability.” The Swimming Pool industry grew up on the concept of “Vacation in Your Own Backyard”, and this approach hasn’t changed in 50 years: the industry is still rooted in “Vacation in Your Own Backyard,” now often called a “Staycation”. But the times have changed: no longer does it cost just pennies a day to operate a pool pump. Pool systems require high-volume turnover and use pressurized filter vessels with poor flow characteristics (particularly multiport valves); even the most electrically-efficient pumps can’t overcome the innate filter design requirements and flaws. It’s electrically expensive to operate a pool today.
Similarly, the chemicals that we’re putting in our pools don’t come cheap. Gone are the days when the 100-pound drum of cal hypo (old “scoop and cough”) was the only pool additive used. Today the mix of chlorinated isocyanurates, shocks of various types, water clarifiers, balancing chemicals for alkalinity, pH, and hardness, algicides, borates, phosphate removers, flocculants, etc., can be mind-boggling… especially for the consumer.
Since the mid-1980s consumers have made it clear, they don’t like chlorine! When the biguanide chemical systems first came out, consumers flocked to them when they were told that “it’s not chlorine.” Fifteen or so years later, consumers are now running to the “salt water” pool. The “salt water” pool is often misunderstood by homeowners as being a “chlorine-free or chemical-free” alternative, when in fact, it is a chlorine pool. There are really two “sustainability” issues. The first is that the chemicals that we put in our pools are not eco-friendly, environmentally-sustainable economics.
Expensive and damaging to the environment, pool chemicals require the mining of the raw materials necessary for the chemicals, the manufacture of the chemicals in chemical plants, the packaging of the chemicals, and the many steps of distribution and transportation of the chemicals. Each of these components has impact on pollutants, carbon footprint and environmental costs, and yet the ultimate goal is to dissolve the chemicals in the water of our backyard vacation! Ultimately, this cannot be sustainable.
This brings up the second of the “sustainability” issues. Is it really necessary to chemically disinfect a swimming pool in order to make it healthy and safe for bathing?
The Natural Swimming Pond embraces the biological processes that occur in nature to produce water that is clear, healthful and consistent with bathers’ expectations. In a Natural Swimming Pond, the water is purified naturally by the movement of the water through filters and the biological functioning of plants and microorganisms: creating a balanced ecosystem where all plants, microorganisms, and introduced nutrients are interrelated to create true “living water.” A Natural Swimming Pond functions optimally when all of the biological factors are present in the correct ratios, which is called stability. In fact, the system becomes more stable with time. In the regeneration zone, biological principles are at work breaking down undesirable components in the water and transforming them into nutrient for plants. Because there is no soil, plants and microbes must get all nutrients from the water, i.e., the plants and microbes thrive on the nutrients that would otherwise feed unwanted algae growth.
Water flow is naturally an important component of the biological system and also a determinant in the ecological sustainability of a pool. The natural processes that take place in a Natural Swimming Pond require much slower water circulation rates than a traditional pool. This results in energy and cost savings. Also, best practice calls for pond design to function such that gravity is the force bringing water through much of the system, allowing for less pumping and therefore less energy consumption.
The case for natural swimming pools comes down to art and science. The art of the Natural Swimming Pond is immediately apparent and without limits beyond the designers’ vision. Additionally the inherent bond between humans and other living systems makes it “feel” like a more comfortable environment. The science of the Natural Swimming Pond reflects the proven, effective function of balanced biological processes in stable, sustainable ecosystems. Natural Swimming Ponds are the environmentally and financially responsible choice.
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