One of the key distinctions of professional water quality management is that it’s based on preventive planning instead of reactive crisis response. When applied correctly, the science and the art of water quality management are ultimately about avoiding problems before they happen, not after the fact. Or at least they should be.
Sounds simple enough; that is, until we consider that the pool and spa service profession has traditionally been oriented toward responding to problems rather than taking preventive action to head them off in the first place. For example, service technicians as well as certified pool operators will test water to be sure it is in a state of mineral balance. Oftentimes, it’s only when the pH drops or rises out of range, or the total alkalinity or calcium hardness are too low or too high, do they take corrective measures.
I contend that if you get to the point where the water is out of balance, you’ve already compromised the system in terms of corrosion, scale, or sanitizer inefficiency. We know for a fact that when water is imbalanced, a host of potential problems can and will ensue. Therefore, it seems logical that we should be employing technology that constantly monitors key mineral constituents and either automatically makes adjustments or notifies the pool operator that the water balance is shifting, before it actually becomes a problem.
Prevention not Reaction
This same principle of prevention versus reaction becomes even more critical when it comes to sanitization and oxidation. The simplest example, when sanitizer levels drop due to high bather loads and other forms of organic loading, adding chlorine or other sanitizers to catch back up to the demand is too late. The system should be resilient enough to never let sanitizer and oxidizer levels dip below a pre-determined level. That’s how it works in public water utilities and industrial applications, and it should be the way our industry operates as well.
Unfortunately, for the most part, that’s simply not the case. What we see is the widespread practice of turning to clarifiers, algaecides, and other stop-gap reactive measures. Those chemicals impact water balance and total dissolved solids, which in turn often require further corrective measures, thus the cure becomes part of the illness. That’s why servicing bodies of water can be so frustrating. When you react, you’re living your working life on the proverbial hamster wheel, always running but never arriving.
Consider the time it takes to react to low sanitizer levels, for example. By the time the service tech visits the site and makes the adjustment, it’s very possible that someone already has been exposed to improperly sanitized water and the biological risks that go along with it. That’s unacceptable. If public utilities treated our drinking water that way, countless people would be sick all the time. The reason that problems with tap water are relatively uncommon is that utility companies think in terms of constant monitoring and prevention by way of incremental adjustment.
The same principle is especially true of treatment by-products, such as chloramines that form as a result of chlorine oxidizing organic compounds. If you come to the point that chloramines are generating the familiar and distasteful chlorine smell, causing burning eyes, or resulting in cloudy water, then the water quality is already compromised. By using technologies such as ozone, UV, and even AOP generation, as well as small concentrations of chlorine, we are able to prevent the formation of disinfection by-products so that the water never needs to be shocked or super-chlorinated.
We know that our world is fraught with harmful bacteria, mold, and toxins of all sorts, and we generally rely on technology to protect our food, drinking water, and overall living environments from containing countless things that can harm us.
In our industry, we prevent fear and reluctance to go in the water, and we, ultimately, enhance the consumer experience, which is the main point of the aquatics industry in the first place.
Taking an Active Role
All of this means thinking differently about how we approach the work we do and the tools we use to do it. It also means taking a more active role in communicating water quality education to those who benefit from investing in the technology that enables preventive maintenance; that is, educating the consumer.
We need systems that are so robust they can handle bather loads, shifting mineral balance, or a flock of seagulls using the pool as a temporary home. The problem is that so many people, including those in our industry, just don’t want to think about it because it’s expensive and out of sight, therefore out of mind. As professionals, I believe we have an obligation to make sure we do the right thing, especially when it comes to safety.
In pragmatic terms, when you try to correct problems, you’re always dealing with unintended consequences. By contrast, when the system constantly makes minor adjustments, you work smarter, not harder. Our customers are happier, and we can go about our business with a dramatically reduced level of stress and anxiety.
This same concept extends to repairs where anticipating replacement and equipment upgrades is part of the established service regimen. The same goes for filter cleaning, control system testing and calibration, and tile and surface cleaning and repair.
We can assume that if water touches it, we can reasonably anticipate the need to mitigate problems before they inevitably occur. If we wait to address issues until they become evident, in most cases, we’ve waited too long.
Bottom line: Prevention is professional, reaction is often something less.
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About the Author
Steve Kenny is an aquatic designer, builder, and service technician with more than 25 years of experience. Based in Long Island, New York, he specializes in designing, building, and maintaining commercial and residential pools and spas that feature the highest possible water quality.
He is a passionate advocate of creating a new class of aquatic professionals devoted to the science, methods, and art of ensuring pristine water conditions. Steve was formally trained in the culinary arts and has a passion for fine dining. He is an accomplished photographer and sailing enthusiast. He is also a passionate advocate of the benefits of hydrotherapy.
A devoted family man, Steve lives in East Hampton with his bride of 20 years and their three children.