Hanging In The Balance

The appeal of interactive water playgrounds is ever-increasing. With the downturn in both the economy and discretionary spending, more families are looking for alternative, less-expensive ways to share family fun. However, facility operators and managers must take a conscientious look at their responsibilities. Patrons flocking to these attractions trust the operators to provide properly maintained water that is bacterially safe. Water-quality conditions in aquatic play features change rapidly based on high bather loads, sunlight and design configurations of the features.

A Balancing Act

Unlike traditional swimming pools, aquatic play features have a significant set of water-quality parameters, which must be constantly monitored in order to avoid risk to bathers. Bather splash-out and evaporation impose the addition of make-up water at a higher rate than that of swimming pools. It is vital that the operator know the chemistry of the fill water. If the fill water has a high or low pH, alkalinity or calcium hardness, this will impact the water chemistry. Water-balance adjustments should begin with knowledge of the fill water as this will impact the future pool chemistry. In water features such as slides, where there are several water levels at various stages of the flumes, it is mandatory that the water be tested at different points along the runout section. Winding slides, as well as wave pools, attract large bather loads at various times. The larger the bather load, the more critical it is for the operator to monitor the water chemistry. This is the reason most facilities are now using electronic water-chemistry monitors to assess the chemical requirements, and adjust automatically for chemical additions. However, the operator must be mindful that the sensors may not read accurately if scale, dirt or grime attaches to the probes. Part of standard operation should be the visual inspection of these probes as well as periodic manual water tests using traditional DPD test kits. The combination of both will provide a safer environment for the bathers.

Test The Waters

Water testing--whether manual or electronic--must be recorded more frequently than with traditional swimming pools. There should be written records of water-chemistry parameters based on local health-code requirements. State and local codes require compliance with the frequency of water tests; however, a conscientious operator will exceed the local codes, as shallow water, make-up water, heavy bather loads, external air temperatures and rain environments will alter the chemistry rapidly.

Above And Beyond

Operator trust is crucial. The increase in the spread of recreational water illnesses (RWIs) is evident from reports from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (www.healthyswimming.com). Because of the influx of RWIs into water environments, chlorine levels must be maintained at all times. The activity of the chlorination will depend on the pH of the pool water. As an example, the higher the pH, the more inactive the hypochlorous acid will be; in layman’s terms, the chlorine will not be as active at killing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, algae and fungi. In order to effectively and efficiently maintain disinfection, there are additional technologies that should be incorporated into the water-quality systems. Ozone is a powerful oxidizer. Studies now show evidence that ozone generation is effective in inactivating those RWIs that are resistant to chlorine--such as cryptosporidium and Giardia. It is advisable that ozone manufacturers be consulted in order to size the equipment properly for each water feature. Operators must be aware that ozone, when not properly mixed, will gas off a toxic fume, which is harmful if bathers inhale. Therefore, the operators must constantly monitor the ozone units.

Other Considerations

Just as important in newer technologies is the use of ultraviolet (UV) systems as a means of providing a non-chemical oxidation process. With the higher bather loads comes a higher chloramine level. UV is effective in elimination of chloramines; if not eliminated, chloramines create a strong chlorine odor, eye and skin irritation and corrosive environments on the surface of the water features. As with all the other chemical-treatment devices, careful monitoring of the UV systems is advisable.

In an effort to minimize injuries to patrons, the operator must adhere to the new Virginia Graeme Baker Act (VGB), and retrofit water features to meet the new main-drain requirements. The challenges involved in securing the proper drain requirements, the gallons per minute required and other parameters are well worth the effort to ensure the safest hydraulic conditions for the facility.

Hydraulics of action rivers, vortex pools, surfing pools, wave pools and water slides require various pump sizes to create the variety of water movements. It is evident that these “fun” water features, if not understood, can also lead to a higher risk of injury. The bathers trust the owners and operators to provide a safe environment. It is therefore vital that the operators are trained in the hydraulics of each water vessel. Turnover rates vary, but most of these features now require the water to pass through the filtration system once an hour. (Check local code requirements.) The filtration system must be designed to meet this one-hour turnover.

The beauty and excitement of aquatic play features and the enjoyment that they bring to the public will continue to increase in the years to come. It is important that operators rely on the technologies offered today--and not rely on old habits. Operators who embrace continuing education and training as a vital part of their job requirement are the professionals that patrons can trust.

Connie Sue Centrella is a professor and Program Director for the online Aquatic Engineering Program at KeiserUniversity eCampus. She was twice-honored with the Evelyn C. Keiser Teaching Excellence Award “Instructor of Distinction.” Centrella is an industry veteran with over 40 years experience in the pool and spa industry. She is a former pool builder with extensive knowledge in pool construction and equipment installation as well as manufacturing.

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The Aquatic Play Feature Handbook, published by the National Swimming Pool Foundation, provides a professional manual for any facility that has an aquatic play feature, large or small. People who operate and manage these innovative recreational features will appreciate this full-color book that describes the different types of features available, unique aspects to operate play features and the maintenance of water quality. The book focuses on risk reduction to the users, the employees and the facility itself. This new book is an excellent stand-alone training manual. It also builds on the fundamental information in the Certified Pool-Spa Operator handbook and the Pool Operator Primer online training program. Cost: $19.95 plus shipping. For more information call (719) 540-9119, or visit www.nspf.org.