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Cloudy water closes North Liberty pool multiple times this summer

City has closed outdoor pool more than 2 dozen times because of visibility problems

Swimmers enjoy the outdoor pool at the North Liberty Aquatic Center in 2012.  This summer, the pool has closed multiple times because of cloudy water. (File photo/The Gazette)
Swimmers enjoy the outdoor pool at the North Liberty Aquatic Center in 2012. This summer, the pool has closed multiple times because of cloudy water. (File photo/The Gazette)

NORTH LIBERTY — Foggy water has cast a cloud over the North Liberty Aquatics Center’s outdoor pool this summer.

North Liberty Communications Director Nick Bergus said the outdoor pool at 520 W. Cherry St. had to close early or in the middle of the day 26 times this summer. While some of those closures were due to weather, a majority have been in response to cloudy water that makes it difficult for life guards to see the bottom of the deep end of the pool.

“It’s been frustrating,” Bergus said Friday. “Summer is a busy time and we get a lot of folks who use the pool. We want to keep it open because it’s a great amenity for the community.”

Bergus said the city has been troubleshooting the issue with various internal and external experts to try to get to the root of the cloudy water issue. One potential factor is that the pool is so heavily used. While the city doesn’t have hard numbers on pool patrons using the outdoor pools, a few counts this summer showed an average of about 575 people per day, Bergus said. During peak hours, there are 350 to 450 people in the pool area, including parents or guardians who are not in the water.

With those people come sunscreen, as well as oil on the skin. Bergus said the city found a correlation between the regularly scheduled 10-minute safety breaks and increased cloudiness in the pools. The theory is that patrons were getting out of the pool, reapplying sunscreen and getting back in when the 10 minutes were up. The sunscreen was then washing off in the pool. To combat that, pool staff started making the safety breaks a little longer, Bergus said.

“We extended the safety break to 15 minutes to allow the sunscreen to soak in,” he said.

Patrons are also being reminded to shower before entering the pool.

Bergus said the city has also replaced all of the sand in the filter and changed some of the chemicals used in the pool. One such chemical helps the particulates in the pool clump together and be more easily caught by the filtration system.

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Finally, to accommodate working parents who might not be able to take their children to the pool during the day, the pool scheduled closures between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to allow the water to clear up.

“This week we haven’t had to do that,” Bergus said. “We’ve been open full days this week. And we were having times where we’d be open all day on the weekends. But, come Monday, we’d see cloudiness show up in the afternoon. It’s been hard to pin down.”

Bergus said while the closures are for safety reasons, the water itself is safe to swim in. The issue is purely visibility.

“Our lifeguards can’t see the bottom of the very deepest part of the pool,” he said.

Bergus said the city empathizes with frustrated pool patrons who have dealt with pool closures this summer.

“We know it sucks,” he said. “We also can’t compromise on safety. That is our number one priority.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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