The Science Of Safety In Aquatic Play Features

The tremendous popularity of parks with unique aquatic play features has changed the landscape of recreational waters. More families than ever are attracted to these venues as a way to spend time together.

Water parks offer unique challenges for operators

Today, these features include everything from water slides, lazy rivers and activity pools to mushroom sprays, splash pads and wave pools.

These innovative recreational features decrease the fear of swimming for young bathers–the shallow water, bubbling actions and sprays offer comfort and reassurance, and create fun and fond memories for the entire family.

For aquatic directors, these exciting play features can present new challenges and risk factors, including additional water-quality concerns.

Water Quality

The risk of contamination increases dramatically at these facilities because there is a much higher bather load and instance of fecal contamination. Thus, it is critical for operators to have a complete understanding of the complexities surrounding recreational water illness (RWI).

Because of the sheer size of the facilities, and the high user rate, there is a constant need for adequate disinfection, which must be continually monitored; therefore, local and state health regulators are updating their guidelines to call attention to higher contamination probabilities.

One important addition to the health codes is the implementation of supplemental sanitation. The recommended level for disinfectants–such as free available chlorine–is 2.0 to 4.0 parts per million. With the higher bather loads, free chlorine combines rapidly; therefore, oxidation must take place at a faster rate. For this reason, a supplemental sanitizer is now recommended.

Ozone and Ultraviolet (UV) systems have gained acceptance as an additional means of eliminating chloramines and fighting RWIs. Controllers and automatic chemical-feed systems, in conjunction with Oxidation Reduction Potential (ORP) metering, have proven to be a safeguard in fighting contamination.

ORP probes are installed on the return side of the filtration system to measure chlorine activity; expressed in millivolts, the ORP probes measure the ratio of oxidation/reduction. ORP is influenced by the pH reading. Operators must take precautions to ensure that the probes are calibrated and cleaned during routine maintenance. It is also advisable to take manual readings throughout the day to effectively monitor free available chlorine and pH.

Most aquatic play features are installed in shallow water or even in zero-depth entry pools. Shallow water and splashing typically cause an increased demand for replacement water. It is important for operators to test the local water supply, as make-up water directly influences the sanitization and water-balance parameters.

Water chemistry for aquatic play features also requires testing the five factors of water balance:

• pH

• Alkalinity

• Calcium hardness

• Temperature

• Total dissolved solids.

When these factors are calculated under the saturation index parameters of -.03 to +.03 on the Langelier Saturation Index Scale, the disinfection process is optimized. These balancing factors are influenced by bather waste, disinfection, source water, airborne debris, aeration and evaporation.

A low saturation index can cause corrosion of the pool surfaces, eye burn, and equipment damage. If the saturation index is high, scale forms on the pool surfaces and within the circulation piping. It is vital that pool operators understand the parameters of water balance to reduce the need for premature interior resurfacing and equipment replacement.

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