Sunday, July 08, 2007

Rain, Rain, Go Away…

You probably heard that we’re getting a bit of rain here in Dallas. Thirty-six inches so far this year, most of it in the past couple of months. Our average is thirty-four for the whole year. So, we’re pretty tired of seeing the five day forecast of rain, followed by rain, then some rain, and more rain, and then even more on top of that. For me, it’s not so much the getting wet that bugs me.

It’s buying all that salt and stabilizer for my pools.

Let me give you an example. Let’s take a 16,000 gallon lap pool / play pool. You know, the kind that are about five and a half, maybe six feet at the main drains at the center of the pool, sloping up to three feet at either end. Lots of folks call them Volleyball Pools. I call them easy to clean and less water to sanitize. They’re my favorite. So, let’s take that type as our example. It’s got an average depth of between four and four and a quarter feet.

Now, put thirty-six inches of rain on top of it, and add a tile line drain, a pretty common feature these days on newer pools, to keep that water level right smack at the middle of the tile.

If you have a salt system that needs around 3200 ppm to operate, you’ve added an extra 300 lbs. of salt and an extra 6 lbs of stabilizer to your pool so far this year here in Dallas.

If you have a salt system that needs 4000 ppm, you’ve added an extra 375 lbs. of salt and 8 lbs. of stabilizer to your pool.

That may not sound like a huge burden to you, but I have about 50 of these puppies on service. We’ve humped an extra 17,500 lbs of salt from our trucks to our pools so far this year. At wholesale prices, that’s an extra $2,187.50 I’ve spent on salt and an extra $400 I’ve spent on stabilizer. And like I said, that’s rock bottom wholesale pricing.

Why not just wait until the rains are all over with and then top off the pools? Well, the Zodiac LM-2 manual on pdf page 14 says it best; “Note: Operating the LM-2 at reduced salt levels may shorten the life of the cell”, and then again on pdf page 17; “The salt concentration should normally be around 4000 ppm, but should never be allowed to fall below 3000 ppm, as this can reduce the life of the cell electrodes.”

And too, it says; “Adding fresh water or rainfall to the pool dilutes the salt concentration.” [emphasis mine]

But wait! What about these reports all over the internet, all these guys posting in all these forums, swearing up and down that they never, ever add salt to their pools? They swear that once they load that first 15 or so bags to get to optimum salt level, that they maybe add one or two bags a year, tops. And what about all those sales brochures that talk about how the salt “never goes away”?

Perhaps their being less than forthcoming, shall we say. Or perhaps those forums are overrun with Salt Reps parading as happy salt pool owners. Because it just ain't true. Take it from the guy who humps the salt.

Unless, of course, these people making these claims all live in Los Angeles. They’ve only had three inches of rain there in the last twelve months. That would make these fantastic claims of never adding salt nearly true.

So, that’s a good rule of thumb. Salt systems are cheaper and should be encouraged for use in drought stricken regions of the world. That’s exactly what you need in drought stricken countries; 16,000 gallon reservoirs of undrinkable water.

But for contrast, let’s take the wettest place in the world; Mawslynram, in Meghalaya State, India. It gets 467 ½ inches per annum. To run a Zodiac at optimum levels, you’d need to add an extra 4,977 lbs of salt and an extra 98.1 lbs of stabilizer each year. If they’re buying the salt at Home Depot and the stabilizer at Leslie’s, that’s an extra $622 in salt and $441.50 in stabilizer.

I wonder if they have Home Depot and Leslie’s in Mawslynram? Well, they must have Wal Marts. Knock 20% off and we’ll call it even.

Here in the US, Wynooches, Oxbow, Washington once got 184.56 inches of rain in 1931. If they’d had salt systems back then, it would have meant an extra 1,964 lbs. of salt and an extra 39 lbs. of stabilizer.

But let’s get real. Let’s talk about present day average rainfalls in present day average American cities.

Mobile, Alabama, at 67 inches average annual rainfall would mean an extra 713 lbs. of salt and an extra 14 lbs. of stabilizer just to keep up with the runoff.

Pensacola, Florida, at 65 inches average annual rainfall would need 692 lbs. of salt and 13.6 lbs. of stabilizer.

West Palm Beach, Florida, at 63 inches average annual rainfall would need 670 lbs. of salt.

Port Arthur, Texas, at 61 inches average annual rainfall, would need 650 lbs of salt, just to keep up with the rain.

Even Tuscon, Arizona – pretty much the holder of the title of Driest State in the US for More Centuries than We’ve Been Here – is going to need an extra 128 lbs. each year to stay ahead of their skimpy 12 inches of annual rainfall.

And these totals don’t include splash-out or backwash. Remember, too, that they’re all based on that little old 16,000 volleyball pool. If you’re feeding a 30,000 gallon deep diver, your mileage may vary.

But let’s get wild here. Let’s say you’ve got that volleyball pool right here in Dallas, Texas, with our paltry thirty-four inches a year, and your builder sold you on that Mineral Springs system. You know, the Aqua Rite private labeled for Bio Guard? And let’s say you drink the marketing Kool-Aid and never ask a single question and always buy your salt – I mean, your proprietary blend of minerals – from your local Bio Guard dealer to keep the salt – I mean the mineral level – up to snuff. At $34.99 for a thirty pound bag, and one bag required per 1,000 gallons of water, and 10,660 gallons of runoff from the rain, you’re going to spend an extra $373.00 on “minerals” for your pool. Move that pool to Mobile, Alabama, and the price, like the annual rainfall, nearly doubles.

But, so what? Everybody still likes the way the water feels and they’re going to keep using them darn salt boxes no matter how much it rains. Right?

And therein lies the moral of this story: If the average modern pool, equipped with a tile line drain to help maintain proper water level in the pool, is getting 10,000 gallons a year of runoff, and if there are 7.5 million residential pools in the US, and if what they say is true and 4 out of 10 pools being built these days are salt pools, then when the salt market zeniths, we’ll have 3 million salt pools dumping 30 billion gallons of 3,200 ppm water into our ground water, our storm drains, our sewer systems, our creeks, our rivers and our reservoirs. Diluting 30 billion gallons of salt water to below the level of taste (250 ppm) will create 384 billion gallons of water right at the level of taste, before any other salt contamination is taken into account. Salt contamination like water softeners, road salt, manufacturing processes, etc.

The average person ought to drink 8, 8 ounce glasses of water a day. That’s a half a gallon of water. That’s 182.5 gallons a year. 30 billion gallons of water represents enough to provide drinking water for 164,438,356 people a year. But if it’s salty, they can’t drink it.

Now all those numbers are only if the number of salt pools keeps growing at the rate of 4 out of 10. If the Salt Guys have their way, and more success, it’ll be higher, and all these numbers will go up.

There’s tons of studies that show ground water chloride contamination from the use of road salts in Canada and the northern US. Just Google it and you’ll see that what I’m saying is true.

When you read those reports you’ll come across this term that the pointy head guv guys who write these environmental studies use when referring very matter-of-factly to the area for several hundred yards on either side of the road bed on those salted roads. They call it the “Salt Kill Zone”.

That’s because it often kills the native plants and they have to be replaced by “salt resistant” species. But even then, you can see that we need to use the salt in that application. Even though it’s creating these dead zones and destroying the road beds and infrastructure – road salt causes about $3,940,000,000 a year in road and infrastructure damage here in the US – if we don’t use it we won’t be able to get around. Commerce will come to a screeching halt every time there’s ice on the road. But salt pools…

Oh, yeah, I remember. It’s so your kids won’t get red eyes.

What truly blows me away is how virulently opposed to this idea of salt contamination of the ground and groundwater is to otherwise normal, intelligent people. I ran into one comment at a forum that read, “Our deck-o-drain drains out to the side of our [sic] directly into a small flower bed. Out of all our new plants, it is probably doing the best, so you'd be hard pressed to convince me that a little low salinity water is bad for plants - let alone ‘toxic waste’”. This comment is from a very bright, able guy and even though everything ever published in the history of mankind says that salt’s not good for plants, he goes by the anecdotal evidence in his back yard.

How does that old wive's tail go about how do you kill a tree? Drill holes in the roots and pack the holes with salt. Right?

Or another comment; “Can't drain it out to the perfectly landscaped property, killed trees, TOXIC WASTE???? All from Salt?? Come on… Someone should probably delete [this] post as to not cloud a newbie's judgment with this load.....”

People want their toys and they don’t want to hear anything that might have to make them feel bad about enjoying them.

You guys go ahead. Enjoy those salt pools. And don’t worry about The Bill.

Like most things these days, your kids can pay for it later.


Evan said...

Perhaps the problem is NOT with salt pools but rather with automatic waterline drains. It seems rather obvious to me that if the water was NOT drained out then much less salt and stabilizer would be needed since evaporation would reduce the water levels. Waterline drains are not that common here in Florida and it is interstesting that you quoted rainfall for several Florida locals.

The Pool Guy said...

Well, if we didn't have tileline drains, then when we got a good, hard rain, the pool would fill up and overflow and become a puddle in the middle of the back yard that would spread to the adjacent planted beds and grassy areas, and then when the water receded, you'd have a pool full of mud and mulch and grass.

In the heat of summer, we get about two inches of evaporation a week. We haven't really had "the heat of summer" so far this year because of all the rain, so our evaporation is a lot less than that. We've also had 36 inches of rain. That's kind of a buttload more than evaporation could take care of.

You know, I've been talking a lot lately with folks in Florida and I'm beginning to think that pools there are about as different as they can get from pools here in Texas. It surprises me. I know that pools here aren't trememdously different than pools across the southwest, from here to southern California, except they use Navigators and Kreepy Krawleys and we use Polaris' and Letros. And East Texas is a lot more like Florida, vegetation wise, than it is like Arizona or So. Cal. So, it's puzzling.

And I wasn't picking on Florida cities in particular. I quoted mostly gulf coast cities. That's because those folks get lots of rain, and so they must be adding lots of salt.

Evan said...

Salt pools stay pretty stable here in Fl. I test a lot of them (work in a full service pool/spa supply). We have a lot fewer problems with salt pools than we do with trichlor feeders/cartridge filter combinations that builders seem to be so fond of installing these days. While it might be great for the builder not to have to install that backwash line it's not so great for the owner who has to drain and refill to get stabilizer levels down. Cal hypo is not a good option for us here, our water is pretty hard to start with (Florida is just a big hunk of calcium carbonate, after all!) We do end up getting a lot of our customers on sodium hypochlorite if they don't want to go with salt but most of them ditch the feeders and put in a SWG. We really have not had any of the problems that you describe in your blog here, especially the rockwork damage. Then again, there are some stringent building codes here in FL as far as construction materials go and the most populated areas are coastal and get a lot of salt spray to begin with. Regional differences do matter. Up north, where the swim season is short and pools are winterized trichlor feeders are a very viable option, particularly with sand filters.