August 15, Release for the Tallahassee Democrat
By Mark Tancig
In Leon County, we are very fortunate to be surrounded by beautiful natural resources that help us cool off. During these hot summer days, pools are a great place to gather with friends and family. Most folks with pools or hot tubs know there is a lot more work involved than just filling that cement pond with water. Such amenities take quite a bit of chemistry to keep them looking nice and clean. From chlorine to salt, or acids to algaecides, there are a lot of products required to properly maintain a pool. Many of these products, if not handled properly or if allowed to enter drainageways, can flow downstream and find their way into our natural waterbodies. Leon County Government urges its citizens to consider the environment when performing pool maintenance.
First of all, let’s discuss how pool maintenance products could impact natural resources. The most common and important product used is chlorine. Chlorine helps sanitize a pool so that harmful bacteria and other microorganisms are not picked up by the swimmers. These contaminants can come from rain, bird droppings, wind-blown debris, and other swimmers. It is recommended that for a properly sanitized pool, the chlorine concentration should be from 1 to 3 parts per million (ppm), which can be toxic to many aquatic organisms in our waterbodies. Muriatic acid, also known as hydrochloric acid, is another common chemical used during pool maintenance to get the pool to the right pH, or acidity, so that chlorine can effectively sanitize the pool. Keeping your pool at the proper pH also reduces that red, burning eye sensation while swimming. A bottle of muriatic acid has a pH of around 1. Most natural waterbodies in our area usually have a pH between 6 and 7. Most aquatic organisms are negatively affected when the pH drops below 5. Algaecides may also be used to keep the pool free of unsightly, green algae. While algaecides are designed to eliminate algae, they can also be toxic to other aquatic life due to many of them containing copper compounds.
Now that we understand that many of our pool maintenance chemicals can be lethal to aquatic organisms, what can a pool owner do to minimize any negative affects to the environment? These recommendations apply to both pools and hot tubs.
- Read chemical labels. Follow all label instructions as it relates to proper dosage, personal protective gear required, and proper storage to avoid spills or accidental contact with the concentrated products. The label will also have information on how to clean up any spills. It is important to remember that these are serious chemicals that are not only potentially harmful to wildlife, but also to humans. Closely following the label instructions will also reduce the chance for any harmful impacts to the environment.
- Direct pool overflow away from any wetland, lake, or floodplain. These areas support aquatic plants and animals that could be harmed by the chemicals in pool water. Instead, have the overflow drain to a flat, grassy area where it can absorb into the soil on your property. You may need to sometimes relocate where the overflow drains so that it does not damage your lawn or other landscaping. Pool discharges to a roadside ditch or other drainageway are only permitted only after the water is dechlorinated. To dechlorinate a pool, simply allow it to sit for one to two weeks or use a dechlorination product.
- Prevent erosion in areas that receive filter backwash or pool overflow by directing these waters to an area of healthy turf, mulch, or stone. Piping filter backwash to a roadside ditch or other drainageway is prohibited in Leon County.
- Decrease the amount of water used and energy consumed by installing a solar pool cover. Solar pool covers reduce evaporation which can save water and reduce the need for additional chlorine and other chemicals. Solar pool covers also warm your pool naturally, extending your swimming season and/or reducing pool heating costs.
- If your pool is maintained by a professional pool service, ask if all is being done to protect the environment.
In Leon County, our waterbodies are one of our most beautiful resources. By following the tips above, you can enjoy a clean pool with friends and family all while knowing you are doing all you can to protect Leon County’s beautiful environment.
Mark Tancig is a Water Resource Specialist for Leon County Public Works and Community Development. For more information, visit www.LeonCountyFL.gov/PubWorks or call (850) 606-1500. For gardening questions, email Leon County/University of Florida IFAS Extension at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov