Municipal Pools: Saving Water, Money & Lives (case study)

Like hundreds of commercial and municipal pools throughout Australia today, Forster’s much-loved aquatic centre was losing thousands of litres of treated water a day as a result of aging and leaking water pipe infrastructure. That was until Nuflow Newcastle showed staff that pipe relining is about saving water, money, headaches and lives.   

The client

Great Lakes Aquatic and Leisure Centre

Midcoast Council Facility

Forster, NSW

The problem

Failing joins in 100mm pressurised PVC pipes at the circa 1970 municipal pool were causing tens of thousands of litres of treated water a day to seep out of the pool’s pipes and into the ground. This was increasing the facility’s maintenance costs significantly and wasting a precious natural resource.

The solution

Relining the complex’s water filtration pipe system (approximately 70 metres of pipe including all bends and joins) using Nuflow’s Blueline.

Time taken to resolve the issue

Six days.

Disruption to services, lifestyle, functionality

Minimal. Only one element of the facility (spa) needed to be drained and out of action for five days. All other pools and areas of the facility were almost fully utilised whilst repairs were conducted.

Cost saving over digging and replacing pipes

Between $60,000 and $100,000.

Other benefits

  • precious water was no longer being wasted
  • no closure of the facility was needed
  • no negative community sentiment
  • no disruption and inconvenience to residents
  • no negative media exposure
  • no loss of usage revenue
  • no need to compensate tenants (private groups using the pool for commercial purposes)
  • no WHS risk to staff, repairers or the public
  • no disturbance to surrounding environment/landscaping as a result of excavation
  • a product guarantee for 50 years provided, meaning ongoing peace of mind and reduced future maintenance costs.

Water leaks in municipal pools

With so many regions of rural Australia in the grip of yet another drought, managers of municipal pools and water parks are working hard to get on top of cracked and broken infrastructure said to be letting hundreds of thousands of litres of water leak into the ground every day.

Canberra’s Civic pool, for example, was closed in 2015 after about 19 million litres of water was found to be leaking annually, at a reported cost to taxpayers of around $100,000.

So when staff at Forster’s Great Lakes Aquatic and Leisure Centre (GLALC) noticed water seeping through the concrete wall that housed the network of pipes and cables keeping the facility functioning, they were immediately concerned.

Water leaks at the Great Lakes Aquatic and Leisure Centre (GLALC)

With beautiful beaches, protected waterways and striking coastal headlands, Forster, on the NSW mid-north coast, is a natural aquatic paradise attracting young families, retirees and tourists alike. The GLALC was built in the late 1960s to compliment what nature offered, and includes a toddlers’ pool, a lap pool, a spa, a gymnasium and barbecue areas. It is heavily utilised by the community for a range of leisure pursuits such as recreational swimming, Learn to Swim classes, squad trainings, rehabilitation sessions and exercise classes.

When the leaks first appeared, management at Midcoast Council wasted no time establishing a monitoring program and investigating their options. There had been leaks in some of the pipes in the past, which had been repaired, however it seemed the issues were becoming recurrent.

Service duct

Photos of the pool’s construction stages showed that a long, rectangular, concrete trench had been installed to run alongside the pool and house the network of pipes and cables required to maintain the supply of quality, filtered water and electricity.

This service duct was approximately 1m x 1.2m in diameter and in line with the building standards in force during construction, would have been designed to provide easy access to the pipes and cables when maintenance was required.

However now, with that infrastructure nearly 60 years old and showing signs of imminent collapse and with the more-stringent workplace health and safety practices in force today, there were questions over how much access it could realistically provide.

Treated water

Importantly, the water being lost had already been treated and heated, which meant not only was there the environmental and financial cost of losing the water itself, but there was also the cost of the wasted treatment processes. Commercial and public swimming pools must maintain very high water quality standards to ensure contaminants from swimmers and the surrounding environment that can lead to waterborne infectious viruses and bacteria are not introduced into the water, meaning use of a range of chemicals is essential2.

Depending on the treatment process, these chemical use can cost between four and eight cents per litre so even if only 10,000 litres of water was leaking at the GLALC each day, that would translate to a cost to ratepayers of around $250,000 a year in lost chemicals alone.

What options were there for repairing the pipes?

Council staff considered a range of options, and finally rang Nuflow Newcastle’s Gavin Heaney to see what relining could offer.

“When I got on site they showed me where the water was coming out of the service duct wall that housed the pipes, but said they weren’t sure whether there were other leaks as well,” he said.

“They wanted us to do a CCTV inspection, which we did, but it was all 100mm PVC piping that had been there a while, so whilst there weren’t any collapsed or broken pipes per se, realistically any number of those aging joins could be leaking.

“There were multiple bends and angles in the system as well, and it was obviously pressurised pipe, so it was very hard to tell from just looking.

“Realistically the cost of losing so much treated water, particularly in the current environment, was pretty significant and they just wanted a 100 per cent safe and complete solution.”

Whilst some managers of commercial and public pools are slow or reluctant to deal with issues of aging or leaking infrastructure, Midcoast Council wanted the issue resolved as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. As with any underground broken pipes, decisions over which rehabilitation method will work best initially come down to whether the overall cost of excavating and replacing the pipes will be greater than using one of the new trenchless (no-dig) technologies now available.

Problems with excavating the pipes

In this case, excavating and replacing the pipes would have meant:

  • closing the pool down for three to four weeks
  • significant negative community sentiment
  • disruption and inconvenience to residents
  • potential for negative media exposure
  • significant loss of revenue
  • compensation to tenants (private groups using the pool for commercial purposes)
    increased WHS risk
  • a significant financial cost for the extensive excavation and new plumbing works required.

Problems with patch repairing or replacing pipes using the existing service duct

Once the problems with excavation became evident, they considered what options the concrete service duct running beside the pool could offer.

Heaney said management was adamant the safety of contractors, workers and the public was paramount.

“They were clear they wanted to avoid any issues with safety,” he said, “and that tunnel only provided a very narrow access.”

“The original purpose of the tunnel would have been to enable tradespeople to service things and in the 60s and 70s no-one cared about working in confined spaces.

“I had to do it regularly when I started as a plumber myself – it was just part of the job – but now if there’s a chance that it CAN happen, then it’s got to be assumed that it will happen and then you have to have measures in place to avoid or address it.

“They would have needed to have mechanical ventilation for a start, and then with a tunnel that long and skinny, there’s the question of what do you do if something does go wrong?

“Like, imagine someone got themselves into trouble while they were doing the repair… either asphyxiation or electrocution or just passing out from the heat or something …. and they’re at the far end of this 40m tunnel – how are you going to get them out in a hurry to save their life?

“You’re just not going to be able to do it – which is a major safety concern.

“Councils obviously want to avoid concerns like that, and we don’t want to have anyone injured or die on the job either.”

Even if those safety concerns could have been addressed, there was still the issue of the pipes already having failed a number of times, and uncertainty over whether the smaller junction pipes leading from the main into the pool wall itself were also leaking.

If they had been, they would have been inaccessible to anyone using the service duct to repair areas of damage, meaning the problem may have simply continued unnoticed.

Why they chose relining

Heaney said a quote to excavate and renew the pipes using traditional repair strategies would have been between $100,000 and $150,000, which, when combined with the other concerns associated with excavation or using the service duct, meant relining came through as the obvious choice.

“If there’s a safety issue with one strategy you can’t resolve, and you’ve got another option that IS safe then you can basically engineer the danger out of the job by choosing the safer option,” he said.

“With relining you don’t have to get into these sorts of confined holes and spaces, so it’s safer and government agencies in particular are looking for safe, trouble-free solutions like this more often.

“Excavating wasn’t really an option either, because the pool is a fairly big part of the community and there are really no alternatives for people to use.

“On top of that would have been the loss of pool revenue and a lot of drama with the community so it just wouldn’t have been feasible on any level.”

Why they chose Nuflow

Once a decision was made to reline the pipes, Heaney says Nuflow became the obvious choice because of their reputation for quality and the security of their warranty.

“The reason they used Nuflow was partly because of what they’d learned about the quality of the product but they were also very keen because of the warranty and because of our focus on safety and training and doing things to comply with all the relevant standards and regulations,” he said.

“Undoubtedly our products give us an edge because they’re just so versatile with what we can do in all sorts of situations; the pipe lengths we can do, the fact that we can reline around tight 90 degree radius bends (which there were a lot of) and that we can get our liners through those configurations, whereas I think with a lot of the other methods of relining can’t do all that.

“Then with the warranty – a standard 10 years for installation and up to 50 years on the products – when you’re dealing with government bodies using public money they like to have that long-term peace of mind and it helps to justify the value in spending the money in the first place.

Getting the relining job done

The leaking pipes were impacting three pools; the spa, the children’s pool and the lap pool, all of which are heated. Only the spa pool (and the complex’s ballast tank) had to be emptied for the relining to be done, and it was only out of action for five days.

Six of the Nuflow Newcastle team, along with a handful of other local contractors, disconnected the filter gear in the plant room (where water treatment took place) and installed an open end of pipe to pull the liner through. At the other end of the pool they cut a 2m by 2m hole in the 150mm concrete concourse next to the spa to get access to the other end of the pipe. They then simply pulled the liner from one end to the other.

“All up we relined between 60 and 80 metres of 100mm pressure pipe with Blueline,” Heaney said.

“We had barricades up and wire fencing 2 metres high around the spa and the excavation sites.

“The council safety officers were on site every day checking all our safety documentation, our work safe procedures and statements, and our equipment before we started – and then checking on everything we did as the job progressed, which was great.

“We relined everything in the duct and then at both ends where it goes under the concrete to the pool and then under the concrete back to the plant room.

“We don’t really know what caused the damage in the first place, but from the sections we dug it looked like either there wasn’t enough glue used in the initial build or maybe it had just  deteriorated quite badly – but in any case, the joins were just going to keep failing without a reline.”

Checking the resins would work with the pool chemicals

Prior to commencing the job, Heaney also worked with both Nuflow’s in-house chemists and the Midcoast Council staff to ensure there would be no implications on water quality as a result of the resins used in relining.

“With anything like this I give clients the chemical analysis Nuflow provides for all its products so they can be sure the resins will be fit for purpose,” he said.

“No matter what’s being relined, it’s important that the client is fully informed about the product so they can have either their own chemists or an independent professional advise them about whether it could react negatively with any of the chemicals they plan to run through their pipes.

“Every installer should do that because not everyone will think to ask whether a product will react with their chemicals, and whilst I’m not a chemist, Nuflow has excellent chemists who do the testing.

“With some of the industrial applications I’ve worked on they’ve told  me they’re mixing this and that and then I’ve got the Nuflow scientists involved to give us some more detail and advice, which gives everyone that added peace of mind.”

The results

The Nuflow Newcastle team turned what could have been a very costly, dangerous and highly disruptive undertaking into a simple fix. Complex patrons were able to continue with almost full access for the duration of the rehabilitation, with only the spa being out of use for a short time.

With all problems now fully resolved, and the savings that will result from lower chemical and water usage costs, the job will most likely pay for itself in less than a year.

“Everything went to plan, the potentially life-saving Learn to Swim classes didn’t miss a beat and the rest of the community experienced only minimal disruption,” Heaney said.

“They paid us to do a job and we did it – and they turned their pumps back on and they weren’t losing any water … so yes, everyone was happy.

“We told them we’d have it all done in a week and we were actually out a day early, so that – along with the fact that they weren’t losing any more water – meant job well done.”

_______________________

Sources:

McIlroy, T. (2015) ‘Civic Pool leaks first investigated in 1955, radioactive material used’, The Brisbane Times

Queensland Health, (2019) ‘Water Quality Guidelines for public Aquatic Facilities’, Accessed 18 October.


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