Thursday, July 26, 2012

Funky, turbid water

A Review of the Venetian swimming pools in Las Vegas:

The water in the main pools at the Venetian and at her sister hotel the Palazzo is simply funky. There is no sparkle to it and you can barely see the bottom in only 4’6” of water. With water quality like this, these are not pools that you would want to put your face in—or really any bodily orifice. Furthermore, as crowed and shallow as they are, these are not so much “swimming” pools as they are “posing” pools or “standing with a beer in my hand” pools.

The main pool complex does have a lot to offer: amenities include towel service, friendly hosts that will help you find a lounge chair, a bar, cocktail waitresses, music, and countless pretty and not so pretty people. For those wanting to pay a premium, there are also cabanas for rent.

The pools themselves are nothing special. They are a series of shallow rectangles surrounded by a sea of lounge chairs and separated by planters and pathways. At each end of these pools are extremely shallow areas (about a foot of water). These areas are populated by floating lounges. The centers of these pools are only slightly deeper. The deepest point in any of these pools is 4’6”. With pools this shallow, there is no diving. Furthermore, with as many people as there are standing in these pools, these pools really aren’t good for swimming—at least not on a summer weekend. But the real reason not to swim there is the horrible water quality. You shouldn’t put your face in these waters. Despite the fact that I wouldn’t personally dare to get into these pools, there was no shortage of people who were willing to and this is their main problem.
As a Certified Pool Operator (CPO) and a pool contractor with 22 years in the pool industry I am fully aware of the challenges that face the pool operators here and at other major hotels. First is the sheer number of bathers—and as discussing as it sounds, when someone first gets into a pool they are bathing all sorts of products from their bodies. Each person brings in their own unique blend of sunblock, moisturizer, hair products, and makeup. Plus there are the bodily fluids: the sweat, the urine, and the occasionally vomit from standing in the sun drinking alcohol all day. There are also spilled drinks and detergents and dirt tracked in on people’s feet. All of this goes into the water, but what takes it out?

Chlorine can oxidize the organics—the skin cells, the bacteria, and so forth (that is, break them down into smaller parts), but chlorine doesn’t eliminate organic matter from the pool nor can it effectively break down the oil based sunblocks and makeup. As a result, organic refuse and an oily film ends up staying in the water causing it to be cloudy and having a dull look.

What a pool like this really needs is a clarifier to clump this biofilm together in large enough chunks that the filter can take it out. Filtration is key and a pool like this needs serious turnover. A standard commercial pool should, according to most code requirements, turnover its entire volume in 6 hours. Now this isn’t quite as good as it sounds since the filtered water mixes with the dirty water that is still in the pool. Because of this mixing of clean and dirty, it takes about 4 turns of the pool (24 hours on a pool with a 6 hour turnover to get 98% filtered water and 2% unfiltered. With a pool like this—with such a large bather load, a 6 hour turnover is simply not enough to provide adequate filtration. I would hope that these pools have a much shorter turnover time—something closer to the 30 minute turnover that is required for commercial spas would seem more appropriate. But whatever the turnover rate is, I can tell you from experience that it is inadequate for a summer weekend. As the water really looked bad—and that is the true test.

In addition to adequate turnover and filtration, pools like these really need to be using enzymes to help break down these oily films that float on their surfaces and cloud the water. It seems, however, that in the case of the pools at the Venetian, that filtration, clarifiers, and enzymes were not keeping up with the demand.  
Besides the main funky pool complex, there is, however another smaller pool complex on the property. This one has a small circular or octagon shaped pool with a large planter in the center that is nice for cooling off and a small warm pool – not quite spa temperature warm – but a comfortable temperature for lounging if you aren’t moving much. There are also two smaller spas (hot tubs / Jacuzzis) near by that are somewhat secluded by planters. Although these pools weren’t perfect, they looked good enough that I felt OK about getting in them – as I really did want to swim and spend time by the pool – and I even felt OK about swimming underwater here. There is no music on this side and drink service seems more miss than hit.