They are all the rage across the United States. And now swimmers in Gillingham are about to get their first taste of a salt water pool. On 16 May RiversMeet leisure centre will begin to switch its swimming pool from the normal heavily-chlorinated method of disinfecting the water to what is known as an electrochlorination system. In essence this means taking everyday household salt and, through a process of electrolysis, using that to keep the water clean. ‘We will be buying in 25kg bags of normal salt, what you use on your fish and chips,’ says general manager Alan Waistell, who has used this system at nine of the pools he has been in charge of across the UK. ‘We have decided to take the plunge and for me it’s a no-brainer – I rate this system a lot.’
Though the salt water system itself produces and uses chlorine to keep the water healthy and clean, it uses a far lower concentration of the disinfectant than conventional systems, while being just as effective. ‘The whole idea is that we put what you class as a less harsh chlorine into the water so what the swimmers will feel is that the chlorine solution is basically saline solution – like what you have in your eye sockets,’ says Alan, who says this will have benefits when opening your eyes under water. ‘Hopefully we get a nicer swim it’s a very different swim. It should feel a bit more “oceany”. You won’t necessarily taste the salt but you’ll taste that there is something different in the water.’
RiversMeet hopes the less harsh chlorination will be especially attractive for certain groups of people. ‘This benefits people with eczema, other skin conditions and asthma, people with breathing conditions,’ says Alan, who points out that the electrochlorination process dramatically reduces that tell-tale ‘chlorine’ smell at swimming pools, which is in fact caused by sulphates in the water. ‘You will have no smell of chlorine on your skin, you will have very little or no smell of chlorine in the air,’ he says. ‘For us, this is about health benefits,’ says Alan. ‘Once we get fully established in the pool it should help these guys – it’s about an investment to help these people.’
The switch-over to the new system will not cause any disruption to the use of the pool and initially swimmers will not see any difference at all, as the existing chlorine is gradually flushed out of the system, a process that will take about two months. Then from mid-July swimmers will not just feel a change in the water they will also see it. ‘The water will be a bit more greeny-blue, a bit more tropical,’ says Alan. ‘That is because salt goes a different colour under the sunlight that comes through the windows than chlorine does.’
He stresses that there is nothing wrong with the quality of the current pool and that customers love the existing ‘crystal clear’ water. Instead, the change is being made to help those who might otherwise find the heavily-chlorinated water off-putting. ‘Imagine customers being able to come here and swim in the salt water where the kids don’t get stingy eyes, where the costume isn’t getting bleached over a period of some months.’ The equipment to electrochlorination system will cost an initial £9,000, which Alan Waistell sees as a community investment. ‘Hopefully our customers will think that it was a brilliant investment!’ he adds.