A floating, Olympic-size swimming pool designed to filter contaminated river water into safe, swimmable water? Some might dismiss the idea as sci-fi pie-in-the-sky. But after a months-long trial run in which its filtration system has been successfully tested in the notoriously foul waters of New York's Hudson River, the long-gestating +Pool is slated to open in mid-2017.
The founders—Archie Coates and Jeffrey Franklin of PlayLab Inc. and Dong Ping Wong of design firm Family—conceived the stand-alone, buoyant oasis in 2010 as a way to compel New Yorkers to rethink their relationship with the city’s rivers. Out with the flippant jokes and in with a tactile enjoyment of local waterways went the triumvirate's thinking.
A cross-shaped egalitarian design (the pool is really four pools in one: a kiddie pool, a sports pool, a lap pool, and a lounge pool), underscored by the catchy moniker "A pool for everyone," helped the project easily surpass its 2011 Kickstarter fund-raising goal. The targeted seed money was $25,000, but more than $41,000 was raised in just six days. A second Kickstarter initiative—launched in 2013 to fund "Float Lab," a mini-filtration-system pilot project—was also fruitful, garnering more than $273,000 against a goal of $250,000. For $25, $199, or $249, supporters can also sponsor one of the pool’s 70,000 tiles. If every tile gets sponsored, the pool's $15 million construction cost will be funded.
The filtration system works like an outsize Brita strainer. As river water passes through the +Pool's walls, three levels of sieves work in concert to incrementally remove bacteria and other contaminants. Once the pool is functional, up to 500,000 gallons of clean water will be cycled back into the river each day.
Since April, representatives from +Pool have been testing pollutant levels of the water that passes through its filtered walls at Float Lab, which is anchored to Pier 40 on the Hudson River. According to Curbed, the objective has been to get the refined water "to measure zero colony-forming units (CFU, also known as bacteria) per milliliter of water." Per Environmental Protection Agency rules, CFU levels ranging from zero to 60 are deemed safe for public use. A measurement of more than 60, and beaches are closed.
On fair-weather days, the +Pool's filters have consistently kept CFU levels below 60. But readings have skyrocketed on stormy days (to mitigate flooding during rainstorms, sewage and storm water is often released into the city's waterways from underground pipes) to as high as 25,000 CFUs per milliliter of water.
So what's +Pool's plan for these sewage-ridden stormy days? Simple: Shut off the intake until the contaminants are carried past the +Pool by the river's natural flow. The +Pool can function for several days on previously filtered water.
Water-on-water havens aren't a novel concept; they've been around in various forms for decades. A hundred years ago, scores of so-called bath palaces could be found bobbing atop rivers that ran through New York, Copenhagen, and London. One by one, these disappeared as public awareness of water pollution increased.
In more recent times, projects semi-analogous to the +Pool have gotten off the ground. The Floating Pool, a 260-foot-long barge transformed into a seven-lane swimming pool, floats in the East River off Barretto Point Park. The Piscine Joséphine Baker, a glass-encased, 82-foot-long lap pool constructed on a decommissioned barge, opened in 2006 on the Seine in Paris.
Proof-of-concept hurdles aside, +Pool's founders must still navigate three obstacles before New York swimmers can enjoy its cleansed waters.
First: They must select a home for the pool. Several locations on the East River are being considered, says Kanessa Tixe, a media spokeswoman for the project.
Second: Various government agencies, including the City Parks Department and the Coast Guard, must sign off on the proposal.
Last: Given the belief that the Hudson and East rivers are filth-ridden cesspools, would-be swimmers must be convinced that a pool featuring filtered water from either waterway is safe for use.
Tixe says +Pool's cofounders are confident "once that first person swims in the +Pool, many, many others will follow soon thereafter. It'll be a trickle-down effect that becomes a torrent." She adds that the pool is being built because of "overwhelming support from the public, and the founders are constantly being hit with questions: 'When is it going to open? When is it going to open?’ ”
This article is brought to you by IBM's People for Smarter Cities. TakePart is teaming up with IBM to highlight innovative ideas and creative change makers who are helping cities all around the world move forward.