Frequently Asked Questions
Where does the concept of natural or wetlandPOOLS come from?
One of the founders of permaculture, Bill Mollison described the idea of a naturally cleaning pool in his book Permaculture, a Designers Handbook. The wetlandPOOL follows the principles of a permaculture project in that it works with nature, instead of against it.
Naturally occurring processes are used to purify the water, creating an ecosystem that functions with minimal human intervention.
The idea, which was developed in the 1980s in Austria, has gained momentum internationally and is available as an alternative to chemical pools across much of the globe.
Are wetlandPOOLS better for the environment than conventional chemical pools?
In a word, yes.
We are living in a time when the damage inflicted on the natural world by human intervention is clearly evident, and we do, and should, question our individual impact on that environment.
Rather than battling against natural processes with a traditional chlorine or salt water chlorinated pool, a wetlandPOOL works with nature and naturally occurring processes to keep pool water clean.
By eliminating the need for chemicals in your pool, wetlandPOOLS prevent the exposure of your immediate household environment, your garden, your family, your neighbours and your pets to potentially harmful substances.
The chemicals used in conventional pools also have a large environmental footprint resulting from the energy required to produce, package and transport them.
wetlandPOOLS, provided they are well designed, have the added benefit of needing much less electricity than conventional pools.
The presence of a large body of fresh drinking water in our gardens is another advantage. Pets can drink the pool water; birds queue up – particularly in the dry months – to drink from and bath in the water and the water is clean enough for frogs and fish to live in.
wetlandPOOLS are an environmentally conscious society’s answer to swimming pools.
Can you drink the water in a wetlandPOOL?
Under the right circumstances, yes.
Tests we conducted have favoured the water quality of mature wetlandPOOLS over tap water, but this is dependent on a number of factors.
How much effort is required to take care of a wetlandPOOL?
The maintenance of a wetlandPOOL doesn’t require water testing, harmful chemicals or much time at all. Looking after a wetlandPOOL is an exercise in gardening.
Once a week the pool weir needs to be cleared out to remove leaves or other debris that may have fallen into the pool. If there are no obvious sources of debris we might suggest removing the barrier of the weir and just allowing debris to enter the wetland and be processed by the filter. If you go away for a while this is also advisable as a blocked wier could cause the pool to overflow.
If you have an automatic top up for the pool – which is recommended – then the water level will maintain itself, but if not you need to make sure that the water level in the wetland doesn’t get too low, and a small weekly top-up may be necessary. Rain water or borehole water can be used for refilling, but grey water is not recommended.
Depending on the size of the pool, its location and the amount of dust in the air, the bottom of the pool will need to be vacuumed about once every month. If you are not swimming in the pool, the dust can remain unless you find it unsightly. We usually recommend vacuuming with a separate submersible pump attached to a conventional pool vacuum hose with a leaf catcher on the hose. The vacuumed water is usually dumped straight into the wetland. With pools that have a continuous water surface between the pool and wetland, the vacuumed water needs to be filtered through a conventional sand filter or a spa dust filter to remove the dust. The whole vacuuming exercise generally takes about half an hour. An automatic pool cleaner can also be used, but it needs to be designed to accommodate this.
Plants need to be cut back once a year, but you can remove dead leaves or stems whenever necessary, as with a normal garden. Once a year, normally in winter or autumn (before the water temperature gets too chilly), you need to wade into the wetland with a pair of secateurs and dramatically cut back all the plants. Water lilies don’t need cutting as they rarely get so dominant as to be overgrown, so just remove their dead leaves or flowers if they become unsightly. The oxygenating plants seem to self-regulate, so we don’t recommend the removal of these. These can, however, be harvested from existing wetlands if growth is excessive.
It is best to maintain a variety of plants in the wetland and, as with a normal garden, if you find an odd water plant in a nursery that you’d like to try out, we would encourage you to give it a go.
The wetland section will very gradually silt up, primarily as a result of dust or inorganic material that enters the pool. It seems likely that this will be a problem after about 15 years, which is the European experience. Once this has happens, the wetland is drained, the plants are removed, the gravel is washed and the plants are then replanted.
Does a wetlandPOOL use less water than a conventional chemical pool?
No, a wetlandPOOL does not use less water than a normal pool. It probably uses about the same amount.
The water lost through evaporation in a wetlandPOOL is greater than for a conventional pool as there is generally a larger surface area, and the plants transpire and so lose more water than a conventional pool through evaporation.
However, no backwashing of filters is required as with a normal pool, as organic particles are processed and removed from the filter through the growth of plants, so there is a saving of the water that would be backwashed out of the pool, hence the assertion that it uses about the same amount of water.
How much electricity does a wetlandPOOL use?
A wetlandPOOL uses less energy than a conventional pool. This is because we usually use more efficient submersible pumps than conventional swimming pool pumps, and because the water flow requirement is very different for a wetlandPOOL.
A conventional pool pump needs to run a pool cleaner and force the water through a restricted, contained sand filter. Both of these require a lot of water pressure, and so the pumps have what is referred to as a higher head height. This is not necessary with a wetlandPOOL, and so the pumps we use can be more efficient at moving water in larger volumes, rather than pushing water at a high pressure.
wetlandPOOL pumps do however, have to run for 24 hours a day, unlike conventional chemical pool pumps which operate for about six hours daily. Despite the longer operating time, wetlandPOOLS still deliver energy savings as can be seen from the example below:
Conventional chemical pool 6 hours x 750W = 4500W/day = 135kWh/month
wetlandPOOL 24 hours x 90W = 2160W/day = 64.8kWh/month
Is the water in a wetlandPOOL blue?
No, but then neither is the water in a conventional chemical pool.
The water in conventional chemical pools appears blue because in a white-lined pool the colours of the light spectrum – the longer wavelengths (blue/purple) that get through to the bottom of the pool are reflected back to the surface through water, losing the shorter wavelengths (red/orange) in the light spectrum. What you see is the blue colour reflecting back.
What kind of animal life might a wetlandPOOL attract?
Birds are usually the first to find the pool and become regular visitors, particularly in the dry season, as many birds need to drink fresh water daily. Birds prefer a shallow waterfall for drinking and bathing, so deliberately including one in the design in an easily visible spot is a good idea.
Fish will thrive in your wetland, but it is up to you to decide whether or not you want them. Populating your wetland with fish does have a price: they will increase the amount of string algae in your pool and wetland. Consequently, we don’t recommend adding fish to your wetland system.
Frogs and toads living in your neighbourhood will delight in your wetland area. This is the greatest compliment to your water quality and is a positive contribution to the environment given that frog species are on the decline worldwide.
However, some frogs may produce a degree of noise, especially at night. If and when they appear, you can decide whether to leave them be or relocate them to a nearby natural wetland.
We always try to make sure that there is a frog ladder or easily accessible point in the wetland so that frogs can climb in and out.
Insects are an integral part of life in your wetlandPOOL. Water gliders will stake out their territories across the surface of your wetland, and dragon and damsel flies will hover overhead. Their larvae function as predators to other insects in the wetland and they all form part of a self-regulating ecosystem.
Don’t wetlandPOOLS create a breeding ground for mosquitos?
No. Mosquito larvae tend to prefer stagnant water because the lack of oxygen makes it inhospitable to the larvae’s predators. Since a mature wetlandPOOL is rife with predators in the form of dragon and damsel flies, established wetlandPOOLS contain no mosquito larvae.
Are wetlandPOOLS indigenous?
Our wetlandPOOLS are planted entirely with indigenous plants endemic to Southern African.
To plant a pool with region-specific indigenous plants is very difficult, mainly because the supply of water plants is very limited. With time we hope that wetlandPOOLS will increase the demand for locally indigenous wetland plants encouraging suppliers to grow more species.
Does a wetlandPOOL contain algae?
All wetlandPOOLS contain algae. Algae growth shows that the system is alive and healthy. There are generally two different types of algae that will grow in the wetlandPOOL system.
Free-floating algae are microscopic unicellular algae that live in water and feed on nutrients floating in the water. The free-floating algae are what give some ponds or dams their characteristic green colouring. In a wetlandPOOL this algae is rarely an issue as the filter removes it from the pool.
String algae are always present in the wetlandPOOL. All surfaces in the pool develop at least a patina of string algae. There are many different types of string algae, and almost every environment in your pool will have an alga that will specialise in growing there. As water salinity, pH, temperature or dissolved solids content changes, so different string algae will come and go.
There are a number of ways that the growth of string algae can be managed. This is primarily achieved through the presence of a good functioning, mature wetland filter, large numbers of oxygenating plants, the reduction of light available to stimulate algal growth and, if excessive, the physical removal of the algae.
Would sunscreen have any detrimental effects on a wetlandPOOL?
It has been suggested that sunscreens might poison your pool, particularly in large quantities. We have not yet encountered this problem with any of our pools, but acknowledge that sunscreens could be harmful to your wetland ecosystem. We caution restraint, but are not suggesting that swimmers avoid sunscreen.
Can a wetlandPOOL be tailored to my requirements?
We have had requests for pools with specific colours, for local indigenous plants only, and for as many edible plants as possible. The options available in the creation of your wetlandPOOL are as varied as there are ideas to go around.