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Natural Swimming Pools – A Place in the Industry

New information can open your eyes and sometimes even present fresh opportunities. That’s why keeping an open mind is so important and why curiosity is such a powerful mental tool. We miss stuff when we’re not paying attention.

However, I was not feeling that way as I made the four-hour drive to Newark, New Jersey, to attend a daylong seminar presented by BioNova, the company behind natural swimming pools (NSPs).

I had only barely heard about BioNova and NSPs but had given them little, if any, thought. It wasn’t that I was opposed to the idea of using natural processes to treat swimming pool water, but it was something I had never considered one way or the other.

At first blush, the idea seems almost outrageous: using plants and bacteria to treat swimming pools. I wondered how that was even possible. The initial questions I had came from the perspective of “traditional” pool treatment methods where the idea is to disinfect the water, meaning kill everything in it that is not a human being. I wondered how it is possible to control pathogens such as Cryptosporidium and other infectious microorganisms and how issues such as water balance and algae control play out in an NSP.

A Fresh Perspective

Suffice to say, the presentation I attended truly turned my head around. For starters, presenters Alan Weene and Allen Schnaak were as prepared and professional as any I’d ever seen. These guys really know their subject. They offered detailed and clear explanations for how NSPs work, and their assertions were backed up with empirical data. And while they were certainly there to promote the idea, the presentation was aimed entirely at answering the questions and preconceived notions held by skeptics like me.

The presentation easily could have been a much longer one. Once you get into the science, there are complex biological systems and interrelationships that could consume a lifetime of study. That’s because the way NSPs treat water is based entirely on the way nature keeps streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes clean. The principles in play are derived from the very essence of biological science.

And, as Weene and Schnaak pointed out, almost everyone who swims in natural water does so without any concern about getting sick because humans have been doing so since the dawn of time.

NSPs harness the work of beneficial bacteria that consume harmful pathogens and the presence of aquatic plants that absorb organic compounds such as phosphates and nitrates. BioNova is, in effect, packaging in swimming pool systems the synergies and balances found throughout nearly all natural aquatic systems.

In a nutshell, NSPs combine swimming pool vessels with “regeneration zones,” which are basically small pond/bog vessels that essentially filter and treat the water with bacteria and plants. Those biological processes can also be achieved using “biofilm reactors,” which are large tank components that are either buried or sit on an equipment pad like a filter or heater.

I was particularly intrigued by the explanation of how beneficial bacteria work to consume pathogens, and I was fascinated by the way that certain species of plants efficiently remove organic compounds from water, driving their growth and working to maintain clear water conditions all at the same time.

The concept also echoes my view of modern holistic medicine, where the focus is on balancing all aspects of your physical health as a way to prevent disease. It’s all based on the idea that natural systems work better than manmade solutions. When you apply those principles correctly, those systems flourish. In an NSP, that concept translates into reliable water quality conditions.

In Its Place

We learned all about the hundreds of NSPs that have operated successfully for years in Europe and other countries, in both residential and commercial settings. We also learned about the different types of NSP designs and how they can be applied in different ways.

As I listened, a powerful set of possibilities began to unfold before my mind’s eye. While it’s obvious that NSPs would not be a fit for every client and setting, I came away with little doubt that these pools would certainly appeal to consumers who are interested in avoiding the use of chlorine and other harsh chemicals.

It’s kind of ironic, of course. I’ve devoted my career and entire approach to water treatment based on the use of manmade chemistry. I do believe our system of combining ozone, UV, and chlorine treatment will remain the heart of our approach.

However, after this wonderful seminar, I can also see a place for NSPs in our work. I’m deeply impressed by the idea and am confident that when applied correctly, these systems create safe water. It’s a bold alternative, no question about that, but it’s one that could be perfect for consumers with more natural inclinations.

the Water Geek


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A blog about all things water, written by SRK's founder Steve Kenny.