This is my busy season. I am not sure that busy even begins to describe the chaos. My friends call this my “tax season”; comparing the chaos to that which accountants must feel before the April 15th tax deadline. Whether that is a fair comparison or not, getting Signal Bay Waterpark prepared for the season is very taxing (See that I did there?) Feel free to read all about the hard work required here.
Signal Bay Waterpark is not the only aquatic facility that I am responsible for keeping safe and clean. The lap pool and hot tub at the Manassas Park Community Center require just as much attention as the waterpark. However, the pool and hot tub are not subject to the outdoor elements that create a yearly cleaning headache. Since the filter systems for the lap pool and hot tub run 24/7/365, we do not have to clean up a swampy mess every year. However, we do have to constantly monitor and maintain a clean and safe environment.
Creating and keeping a clean and safe aquatic facility involves more than just employing lifeguards to monitor the water and put away equipment. We have a thorough system in place, which consists of hourly, daily, weekly, and preventative maintenance tasks. The following is an overview of the tasks and measures we have in place to keep our facility clean:
Hourly Chemical Testing
Every hour, our head guards are required to test the pH and disinfectant levels of both the pool and the hot tub. If the pH is outside the acceptable range (7.2-7.8) then they must make immediate adjustments. PH outside of this range could result in water that burns or dries your skin out. Eye irritation is another concern as well. When testing the disinfectant level, if it is not within the acceptable ranges (Pool chlorine: 1-3ppm; Hot Tub bromine: 2-6ppm), then head guards must make an immediate adjustment. If our disinfectant level is too high, patrons may experience skin irritation and bleached out swim suits. If the disinfectant level is too low, there is a risk of bacteria or germs spreading. While the head guard is performing their hourly chemical checks, they are also auditing the pump room to make sure that the filters are filtering the water appropriately. If the filter system stops, the pool and the hot tub would get pretty disgusting, pretty quickly. Stagnant water is not safe for anyone to swim in.
We have our rules for a reason, and the reason is most likely for your safety. Ever wondered why specific swim attire is required? Find out here. Maybe you’ve wondered why swimmers are encouraged to shower before swimming. Why isn’t glass allowed around the pools? If it breaks near a pool, the only safe way to ensure that no glass is in the water (which could potentially be ingested, or cut someone) is to drain the pool completely and power washing the entire pool. Why isn’t food allowed in the pool area? Bugs! The warm, damp environment of aquatic facilities is attractive to bugs. Add food and crumbs to that, and it is a bug’s paradise! While we would love for our facilities to be labeled as “paradise”, a bug’s paradise is definitely not desired. Most of our rules have safety and/or cleanliness as the motivation behind them (sprinkled in with a few rules that emphasize decency, like no public displays of affection!)
Each day, the lifeguard staff is assigned a plethora of chores. Some of the chores are simple and can be done regardless of the number of patrons in the pool. Others require planning as to provide the least amount of disruption to our patrons. Chores like scrubbing the deck, hosing off the bleachers, or draining and refilling the hot tub are planned for times when minimal patron disruption is expected. Sometimes you may come in to swim and notice our staff immediately stopping a task. They may even leave the equipment set up but turned off. This isn’t because they got lazy and decided to stop for a prolonged break. It is most likely because they aren’t supposed to perform the task with patrons present (for safety reasons!). It takes a lot of patience to complete certain tasks since they can only be performed when patrons are not present.
If you haven’t been to our indoor pool in the last year, I highly encourage you to stop by. A year ago, you might have looked at our pool and noticed stains, rough patches, and even algae. Our whitecoat (or plaster) was badly worn. At a certain age, whitecoat surfaces start to deteriorate and become more porous. These pores become safe havens for algae to grow and stains to stick around. No amount of chemicals or brushing can fix it. So in late June of last year, we had a new whitecoat installed. We didn’t just go with your standard white plaster whitecoat either. We upgraded to a DiamondBrite surface which will last us much longer. With the install, our pool instantly became cleaner! Bye-bye algae!
Additionally, to help maintain our new whitecoat and decrease the likelihood of future algae growth, we purchased a robotic vacuum for our pool. Think Roomba, but it scrubs and picks up debris! BEST. PURCHASE. EVER! We place the vacuum in at closing every night, and ta-da, good morning clean pool! Our guards used to have to rush to throw in the manual vacuum every morning and spot vacuum before our first patrons arrived. There was never enough time. Plus, very few things are more frustrating than vacuuming the pool as well as you can in the little time you have, only to have to sit in the lifeguard chair and stare at a large clump of hair that you missed! (I speak from experience!)
You might be wondering what this means. Or maybe you are wondering how this differs from chemical dosing. I could go into a long science lesson about the properties of water, but I will spare you. Long story short, water naturally tries to balance itself. If it needs more of a specific mineral, it will seek it out of the surfaces it touches (Etching). It if has too much of an element, it will try to deposit it onto the surfaces it touches (Scaling). In order to protect the pool surfaces, and provide the most comfortable water for swimming, we test the water and balance it ourselves (usually by adding chemicals). After eight years of working at this pool, I have gotten pretty good at identifying when the pool water needs to be balanced just by looking at it. If the water is dull and a little cloudy, the calcium hardness is usually low. If the water is cloudy and has a light green tinge to it, it is usually that the alkalinity is high. But we do not just rely on Sarah’s eyes to balance the water. Instead, the head guards test the Calcium Hardness and Alkalinity of the pool and hot tub three times a week. Any adjustments for water balance are usually made after we close to reduce inconvenience to our patrons.
Draining and Filling the Spa
The guards and I refer to this as “Dumping the spa.” Essentially what happens is that after 6-7 days of use, the Total Dissolved Solids (user waste, chemical byproducts, etc.) get too high. It becomes increasingly difficult for our disinfectant to work. In layman’s terms, the water gets grimy! So every Sunday evening (and other days/times if needed due to high bather loads), we drain the spa water all out, scrub the spa, and refill. Monday mornings, the spa water is the cleanest it will be all week! (Though it is sanitary and safe ALL WEEK!)
That is just an overview of the system we have in place. I didn’t talk much about the “emergency” or “high importance” issues that need to be addressed immediately. Sometimes previously scheduled maintenance has to be postponed due to unforeseen circumstances.
Finally, I would like to end this blog with a few suggestions of how you can help us to maintain a clean aquatic environment.
1.) Please wear appropriate swim attire and shower before swimming!
2.) If your children are not potty trained, please use a swim diaper and check it regularly! Swim diapers leak easily!
3.) If you have recently worn your swim suit at a lake or pool with algae, please rinse it thoroughly before wearing it in our pools.
4.) Do not bring food, candy, or sweetened beverages into the pool area.
5.) Please do not spit or blow your nose in the water. Obviously, some spitting is required in order to swim, but please refrain from blatantly spitting into the pool.
Thank you for taking the time to read a little bit about maintaining clean and safe aquatic facility. If you ever have any questions or concerns about our facility, please let me know! I’d also love to hear any suggestions you might have!
Sarah Barnett is the Operations/Aquatics Supervisor for the City of Manassas Park, Department of Parks and Recreation. She can be reached at 703.335.8872 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.