By Karen Appold

Indoor waterparks are designed to be warm and humid so park guests and staff are comfortable. But unlike outdoor waterparks, indoor parks are enclosed and there’s no wind to blow away odors. This results in specific challenges for indoor waterparks.

Brandon Schindler, aquatics director of Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., home to the Wild WaterDome, Klondike Kavern, Wild West and Cubby’s Cove indoor waterparks, explained that park users and guests introduce chemicals like urea and natural bodily oils into pools that react with chlorine to create chloramines. Chloramines are heavier than air in a building, so they tend to sit just above the water’s surface where park users tend to breathe. Chloramines can irritate the lungs and eyes. Furthermore, slides and spray features create airborne water particles that can become irritants. A high volume day, or a period of high volume days, increases the presence of airborne irritants and stresses a facility’s HVAC systems. 

The Coco Key Water Resort in Mount Laurel, N.J., has a team dedicated to water quality and maintenance.

Poor air quality can cause guests and staff to have breathing problems and those with prior respiratory heath issues can have flare-ups. “With all the chlorine and chemicals in the air, it is vital that circulation is at its highest quality to avoid issues,” said Eugene Vanderwalt, director of waterpark operations, Breaker Bay Waterpark, Sheboygan, Wis. “Many factors can affect air quality in an indoor waterpark such as bodily fluids, hygiene and even soaps in laundry detergent that can get stuck in clothing or swimwear when they aren’t properly rinsed.”

Ensuring Safe Air Quality
Diligence in daily maintenance and record keeping is key to ensuring safe air quality. “Check HVAC systems regularly to ensure they’re operating as designed,” Schindler said. “Replace filters, fan blades and other equipment at regular intervals to ensure optimum performance. Establish and maintain proper turnover times. Bring in fresh air through HVAC systems and exhaust bad air out of the facility.” Air should be moved across a pool’s surface to collect and remove heavy chloramines. Water quality also affects air quality. 

Don Wensinger, director of resort operations, Splash Lagoon, Erie, Pa., said the waterpark maintains about a 60/40 fresh air intake at any one time in the park. “We bring in a lot of fresh air, heat it, pump it into the park and pump out the smelly air,” he said. “Our park turns over its air quality about every eight hours. If the air gets stuffy or we’ve been very busy, we can kick up fresh air intake to 100 percent.”

Additionally, you can super chlorinate, which raises a water’s chlorine level overnight when people aren’t swimming. When chlorine levels are higher, it will start to attack chloramines and destroy them, Wensinger said. 

Challenges with Water Quality
Guests who don’t shower before entering a pool introduce bodily oils, shampoos, deodorants, soaps and so forth into the water, while others urinate in pools. “All of these chemicals can then combine with a pool’s chlorine to create chloramines,” Schindler explained. The warm, moist indoor pool environment is also a great breeding ground for many germs. Some viruses, like Cryptosporidium, create recreational water illnesses. Volume, especially over time and much like with air quality, also stresses pool systems. 

Vanderwalt also points out that poor water quality can affect a lifeguard’s ability to see a pool’s bottom, which is crucial for guest safety. “Dirty water can also affect air quality when chlorine mixes with bodily fluids, fabric softeners and soap, creating an odor that could be very strong and irritating,” he said. 

Maintaining Safe Water Quality
Safe water quality begins with having an educated staff, Schindler said. Aquatics facility operator or certified pool operator courses help introduce new staff to proper pool maintenance techniques. “New hires should also train alongside more experienced staff to ensure they know the ins and outs of the park’s equipment,” he said.

Wensinger also cited employee education as well as dedication as key. “If one maintenance person messes up, the chance that everyone gets sick is great,” he said. “One of the most important jobs at my facility is to ensure water quality.”

Diligence in daily testing and recording pool chemical levels should also be a top priority. Combined chlorine should be monitored and corrected as needed. Maintain pH levels between 7.2 and 7.8 to ensure swimmers’ comfort. “Using, monitoring and properly maintaining automated pumping systems for the chemicals designed to ensure proper pool chemistry is also key,” Schindler said.

Establish and maintain proper filtration turnover rates, and monitor filtration systems to ensure they work properly. Backwashing filtration systems to remove contaminants should be completed as directed by the manufacturer or in accordance with state or local law. Ultraviolet (UV) filtration can also be a great added measure of filtration, especially in pools with high volume or those that are popular with children. 

“Although UV filtration doesn’t remove contaminants from water like more traditional filtration, the UV light kills or disables many germs and viruses associated with recreational water illnesses,” Schindler said. “Complete pool water changes at regular intervals can also be helpful.”

Educating park users also has great benefits. “They should be required to shower before and after pool use and be encouraged to use bathrooms regularly,” Schindler said. “Those who are not toilet trained should be required to wear swim diapers at all times while in the pools and diaper changes should only be allowed in restrooms at proper changing stations. Guests who are ill, or those with open wounds or sores, should not be permitted in pools.” 

Andrew James, water resort director, CoCo Key Water Resort, Mount Laurel, N.J., said the waterpark has a team dedicated to water quality and maintenance. “They do checks every two hours to make sure combined chlorine and chloramine levels are where they are supposed to be,” he said. 

Schindler said the parks have approximately 575,000 guests annually, which is slightly up. “A vibrant economy has helped, and I also think the waterpark business in general has become more attractive to the population at large as people seek regional vacation and entertainment destinations that can be more cost effective than visiting popular and widely known theme parks further away,” he said. 

Wensinger said visitation is also slightly up at 250,000 annually, which he also attributed to a good economy as well as the park adding a small slide last winter, which appeals to its target market. 

Pelican Harbor, Bolingbrook, Ill., saw an increase in daily admissions for 2018 with around 130,000 swimmers. “A very warm and dry summer increased attendance and strong marketing along with good weather resulted in an increase in seasonal pass sales,” said Rob Bast, aquatic manager.

For Vanderwalt, visitation depends on promotions, but overall attendance is up over previous years; 375,000 people visit the park yearly. 

Visitation is slightly down at CoCo Key Water Resort, which James attributes to additional competition in the area. Between 150,000 and 170,000 guests frequent the park annually.