Achieving high water quality is essential when creating a healthy water environment. Often, one of the keys to successful water treatment is overlooked: taking the time to listen to the people who live and work with the water every day is critical to getting it right.

To illustrate what we are saying, meet Jeff Ward. Jeff has been working in and around pools for 40 years. He has an exemplary resume as an aquatic coach and athletic director. He swam competitively at Dartmouth, served as the director of athletics at Bowdoin College and was the assistant director of athletics for operations at Brown University. He served as the head coach of women’s swimming and diving at Columbia and the assistant coach of men’s swimming and diving at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

When I met Jeff, he was the chief program officer at Asphalt Green, an NYC-based nonprofit organization dedicated to helping individuals of all ages and backgrounds achieve health through a lifetime of sports and fitness. He was in charge of program design, development and operations, and strategic planning. Asphalt Green has one of the nicest and most popular aquatic facilities in the entire Tri-State area. Last year, we had the pleasure of addressing some persistent water quality issues the facility was struggling with.

Suffice it to say, Jeff is a professional who knows what it takes to run a successful aquatics program and he has a profound appreciation for the importance of the bather experience. We interviewed Jeff to get his perspective on the water quality process and would like to share his perspective with you:

“I can’t remember not going to a pool every day. It becomes a way of life and water quality is an issue that’s always there whether you realize it or not. It’s very, very common, most facilities have some sort of water quality problem of some kind. Sometimes it’s a temporary situation that comes up and hopefully there’s an obvious fix. Other times it’s an ongoing situation that you learn to live with.

For most people, even those involved with the maintenance of a pool, their understanding is barely an inch deep. If there was a perceived problem, usually because of air quality, most people will check the chlorine level and pH, and that’s where we stopped. Maybe we would backwash the filter, but our understanding didn’t go any further than that. If those numbers are acceptable, then the discussion turns to air quality and ventilation problems.

As I’ve thought about this, I believe that’s inaccurate. Now I believe if you’re doing a good job with the water, if you have reasonable ventilation, you’ll be fine. On the other hand, if you do have significant water quality problems, it can overwhelm almost any ventilation system. You solve those issues by going to the cause of the problem, the water itself. If you smell the ‘chlorine,’ it’s a water quality problem, not an air-handling issue.

Working with Steve has shown me the complexities of many different factors that can negatively impact water quality and you don’t know it until you look at what’s going on in the pool from a different perspective.”

Solving the real problem

What changed Jeff’s perspective is that he has come to understand that you have to look deeper into the symptoms before treating them. You have to ask the right questions, is it a bad flow rate, a problem with the filtration, are there problems with the skimmers, there’s a long list of potential causes that have to be considered. I’ve long believed that a big part of the problem in our industry is that we’re always looking for the silver-bullet solution. But solving the real problem, rather than treating the symptoms, requires balancing and correcting a number of interrelated factors. It’s been gratifying to see how Jeff appreciates the difference in how we approach the entire body of water, not just one isolated piece of the puzzle.

Jeff goes on to say:

“I hate to say it, but there’s not a real high level of professionalism in the pool industry and most of the people who work in maintenance on site at a facility don’t have significant training in water quality management. It reminds me of when I was a high school lifeguard and was in charge of taking care of the chemistry. Unfortunately, that kind of casual approach to water quality management is not unusual to this day.

I don’t think there are very many people who have expertise to begin with. Many people who represent themselves as having detailed knowledge do not. Many people on my side of the equation don’t even fully understand the need for someone with a background in assessing, creating and maintaining quality water. There’s a lack of understanding all the way around.

Until you’ve experienced the kind of water Steve can generate, you don’t even know what’s possible. In my four decades of experience in and around pools, I’ve never run across anything like it. This is water treatment at a much higher level than almost everyone is used to.

That’s why I think we do need a class of professional water quality managers who can constantly monitor multiple pools using technology to control the multiple factors that go into maintaining great water.”

Ensuring the health and wellness of all pool users

I’d like to thank Jeff for sharing his perspective on the importance of ensuring high water quality. As we continue to have more external factors contributing to the imbalance of water, even factors such as COVID-19, maintaining healthy water and the environment it exists in will become more complex. We will see more pool shutdowns and people developing health issues from water that is not properly maintained.

The importance of understanding water quality and how to assess, create and maintain water at the best chemistry possible is something we need to take a serious look at as an industry. It is our responsibility to ensure the health and wellness of all people using pools.

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Meet Steve Kenny

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.