From ecstatic children splashing water for hours on end to tired parents sunbathing until the whistle blows, the pool is the place to be in the summertime.
This summer, northern Minneapolis will open one of the city’s largest public pools — but it’s not your average pool. The water won’t be crystal blue, and you won’t come out red-eyed and reeking of chlorine. The pool will be 100 percent natural — the first of its kind in the United States.
With enough space to accommodate 500 people, Webber Park Pool is expected to reel in people from all over the Midwest. Minneapolis Parks Board Commissioner Jon Olson was responsible for shepherding the natural pool, a project that has been in the works for 10 years. “They were doing this over in Europe for about a quarter century, had great success with it, and haven’t had any issues,” Olson says. “It just made a lot of sense to try it here.”
Natural pools have been around since Werner Gamerith, an Austrian environmental activist, built the first one in Europe in 1983. A nature lover, Gamerith constructed the pool as a part of his private garden. That pool is still fully functional and has served as a model for over 20,000 successful natural pools worldwide.
Mother Nature, the ultimate swimming pool designer, has inspired both the look and feel of these natural pools. They are self-cleaning mini ecosystems that cause no damage to the environment and are far more visually appealing than a typical pool. “I wouldn’t say that the swimming area looks like a pond at all,” says Alan Weene, the head of marketing at BioNova, the contracting company that consulted on the project. “It is a pretty unusual design, so it’s not going to look like your typical blue rectangle,” Weene says.
The construction of Webber Park has cost close to $7 million. Webber Park Pool will also be free for all those who want to take a dip. “It’s the only pool in Minneapolis that is going to be free,” Olson says. Because the pool looks and behaves so much like a natural body of water, Olson feels it’s unnecessary to enforce an admissions fee.
But because natural pools behave so differently from your average public pool, Olson and the pool’s planners had to jump through some hoops.
Although several countries have accepted these pools into their neighborhoods and backyards, state laws in the U.S. have blocked their construction here. Those laws require public pools to use chemicals like ozone and chlorine to ensure that the water is sanitary enough for people to swim in. But over the years, some individuals have become wary of these sanitation methods and the potential adverse side effects from pool chemicals.
The Minnesota Park and Recreation Board had to prove that natural pools are just as safe as any other public pool, even without the use of any of these chemicals. Olson worked with the Minneapolis Health Department — and Gov. Mark Dayton — to pass new laws. “We gave the municipal health department parameters on how the system worked and essentially the biology behind it to then write legislation,” Olson says. “It’s a system that allows people who have allergies to chemicals in traditional pools to be able to go and swim in this pool without an issue.”
The Webber Park Pool is a multi-chamber system. There will be a clearly defined swimming area and a completely separate “regeneration zone” where all of the filtration takes place. “The magic in these pools happens in the regeneration zone,” Weene says. More than 7,000 aquatic plants will populate this regeneration zone and will work effortlessly, all year round, to filter the water from the swimming area. Beneficial bacteria in the regeneration zone convert the impurities from the swimming area into nitrates that can then be consumed by the plants in the regeneration zone.
The greenish tint of the water, though, may have people wondering. The color is simply a reflection of the green lining at the bottom of the pool. The water itself is as clear as what comes out of a tap at home. Consider it a deal sealer for any of the lawmakers worried about missing chemicals. “As far as the water quality goes,” Olson says, “it will be twice as clean as any natural lake that we have in the area.”
Here is a look at how the construction at Webber Park Pool has progressed over the past few years.[metaslider id=3885]