The ecological and health benefits of natural swimming pools

Sebastian von Holstein
Sunday, 28th April 2013

A cool refreshing swim is wonderful on a warm sunny day but conventional swimming pools can damage the skin and the body. Sebastian looks at the benefits of natural swimming pools from a permaculture point of view.

Wouldn't it be nice if on the warmest of summer days, you could dive straight in to a clear, cool pool to refresh the senses and prevent overheating. But with our skin being the largest of all our bodily organs, we rarely consider the consequences of extended contact of chlorine, algicides and other chemicals with the skin. As a living, breathing organism, anything we put into contact with it can be absorbed, proving to be either beneficial or harmful to the rest of the body.

You may already have converted to organic, paraben-free non-toxic alternatives to conventional shampoos, skin care and health products, either for preventative reasons or to cure ongoing conditions such as eczema. However the dialogue continues each time you enter the shower, bath or swimming pool.

How bad are conventional swimming pools to human health?

Documented long term health effects of chlorine and other conventional pool cleaners include eczema, rashes, cancer as well as itchy and prematurely ageing skin. It is also believed to cause asthma, an increased risk of allergy and breathing problems.

Have you ever experienced or heard from others the wonderful feeling of swimming out in wild pools, beneath waterfalls or in springs? Far from the drying effects of chlorine, these alternatives actually lubricate the skin, making you feel clean and soft. Many sufferers of drying skin conditions actively seek out regular wild swimming sessions to alleviate unpleasant symptoms.

For these reasons, but also because of those understanding the importance of holistic lifestyles, natural swimming pools are becoming replacements for conventional swimming pools. These either take the shape of traditional swimming pools or can be integrated into the landscape, as to look similar to a pond.

How does a natural swimming pool work?

These pools are highly attractive, consisting of a swimming area and a 'regeneration area'. The swimming area could even be a traditional box rectangle shaped pool, it will look the same but the water will be untainted and far more pleasant to swim in. The regeneration area of the pool is often contained within a separate miniature pool and is responsible for cleaning, filtering and oxygenating the water that passes through here.

Image from (gartenart swimming ponds)

The plants that form this cleansing arena could include reeds, cattails, water lillies or any other native plant that acts as a filter. Any animal or bug will most likely be attracted to this area for its plant life, but these in turn will control any pest issues such as mosquitoes from laying their larvae into the water. Plants also serve you by consuming nutrients that could otherwise begin forming. However mosquitoes won't be a problem if you circulate the water using a water pump that can be charged by solar energy. This in turn will clean, oxygenate and circulate the water from the swimming area to the regeneration zone. You can also pass the water through a natural gravel filter for extra reassurance.

Natural swimming pools and the surrounding landscape

The average swimming pool holds around 20,000 gallons of water and many people drain them on a yearly basis during winter. This means that owners of conventional swimming pools are draining away at least 20,000 gallons of contaminated water per year – an environmentally shocking number. Where does this water go? What is the effect of chlorine and other algae prohibitors on ecosystems? Most swimming pool owners have no idea.

Natural swimming pools do not need draining. In winter, they simply freeze over and regenerate again in spring with the seasons, which is when you might be filling up your conventional pool again. Furthermore, if simultaneously used as pond pools, they can also become home to a host of endangered water species, who will further improve the filtering of the pool.

At ZEGG, the center for experimental cultural design near Berlin, Germany, they introduced the water filtering goose barnacle to their natural pool. It is an endangered species in Germany so it is here given a chance to survive, while practically, each one can also filter up to 2,000 litres of water per day.

There is a range of freshwater plants, fish, barnacles and mussels that form symbiotic relationships with one another to help filter your pool, while increasing the breeding rates of red-listed species, which can at a later date be released back into wild freshwater ponds and lakes. 

Natural pools and permaculture

Essentially, as with any other permaculture inspired project or solution, the natural swimming pool is a method of mimicking natural systems, which are the purest of them all. Not only is this the most natural method, but is more cost effective and requires less human input in the form of maintenance. Just like healthy soil, a balanced water system contains all the micro-organisms needed to provide you with water so clean, you could wash with it and also drink it - many do!

While of course these types of swimming are moderately cheaper to build than the conventional swimming pool, the initial costs remain. These quickly reduce after building with the cost of chemicals disappearing. With this, so too ends the morally questionable act of filling up and draining a 20,000 gallon+ swimming pool with clean drinking water on a yearly basis.

For those considering a natural pond, this could be an upgrade. For those no longer willing to continue using chemical products, this could be an alternative. And for those who who just love to swim and bathe in natural water everyday, this could be ideal. Either that, or go find yourself a local natural spot!

Sources & Resources

Grab yourself a FREE download of Permaculture Magazine issue 66, which contains an article on building your own natural swimming pool.

Issue 42 of Permaculture Magazine (pdf download) contains further information on the natural swimming pool at the ZEGG centre in Germany. 

Two books are also available: Natural Swimming Pools – A Guide for Building and Natural Swimming Pools – Conventional Pool Conversion to get you started on your pool building enterprises.

Learn how to build your own DIY natural swimming pool with this useful, hands on DVD, Natural Swimming Pools: a guide to designing & building your own.

AliceTimothy |
Thu, 04/07/2013 - 18:14
I concur natural swimming polls are really health beneficial they are not only Eco-friendly but helps to maintain natural resources..