Johnson City could have filled 14 pools with the amount of water the city used to keep its Legion Street Pool open last year, according to the city’s water bill.
The 300,000 gallon municipal pool, which is set to open on Memorial Day, used more than 4 million gallons of water last year, according to the public document.
“It’s an old pool, it’s past its life span, which says something from Johnson City about how they’ve maintained things,” Johnson City Parks and Recreation Director Roger Blakeley said of the 56 year-old pool. “We’ve been able to maintain it to this point. We saw some water loss that was a little more than we thought, so we said, ‘Let’s go try to check everything that we can.'”
The city’s 2014 water bill shows month after month of higher than normal water loss. In July and August alone, the city used 2.2 million gallons of water to keep the 300,000 gallon pool open, according to records. Overall, the city used 800,000 gallons more water in 2014 compared to 2013 and 2012, according to records.
The city seals the pool annually. However, at the end of last season Blakeley says the city took extra steps in light of the massive water loss.
“This year we went in and we put ground detecting radar throughout the whole bottom of the pool and through the sides, because we wanted to make sure it was sound in structure,” he said. “It’s sound. We have taken cameras and we’ve run down all the lines to see if we can find any leaks and those types of things and now we’re painting it.”
Despite all of that work, Blakeley says the city is still unsure exactly what caused the higher than normal water loss in 2014, especially in July when the pool used 1.3 million gallons of water.
“I don’t know that there was one specific issue,” Blakeley said. “That’s why we did all the work this year after the pool was closed. I went through all the pipes. I went through all the valves. Was there a valve open? Was there something going on? We were unable to find anything.”
It’s no secret that the pool has leaked for years, but never this much in recent years.
“Honestly, I was surprised when I heard the numbers,” Johnson City Commissioner David Tomita said. “That’s a lot of water.”
The problem has bothered Johnson City Commissioner Jeff Banyas so much he’s previously supported closing the pool.
“This has been a problem for a number of years and our staff has tried repeatedly to fix the problem,” Banyas said. “Unfortunately, nothing has been successful. This is the main reason that I wanted to close the pool. I have not spoken with our staff about the pool recently but if we are having the same issues then I would say yes (I still think we should close the pool).”
After we contacted all members of the City Commission, members discussed the pool situation at an agenda review meeting Monday night.
“Although it is a great deal of water we are losing we are assured that it is safe,” Tomita said. “I believe we’ll leave it open for the season and then look at the long term plan in the interim.”
“(The pool) had been repaired multiple times to the point that all is left is to remove the concrete liner and redo,” Johnson City Commissioner Jenny Brock said. “We are trying to decide what to do about the Legion St. Complex that includes the pool. Parks and Recreation staff have recommended building a new pool on their master plan.”
“(We) can’t just shut it down, because so many children depend on it,” City Commissioner Clayton Stout said. “But I think you will see it being addressed in this budget as far as creating an exit strategy there.”
Although city staff still don’t know what caused the problem, Blakeley suspects the pool’s older filtration system is likely to blame, along with hot weather during the busiest months of the season. Regardless, he says the pool is safe.
“I heard this once, ‘Oh, the pool’s going to fall down and you’re going to suck kids to China,'” Blakeley said. “No, we’re not going to suck kids to China. That’s not ever going to happen. Everything was structurally sound as far as the pool’s shell itself.”
There is no doubt the city is wasting water, but some could argue the city is wasting money too. In addition to the $6,000 the city spent on improvements and maintenance at the pool last year, taxpayers spent another $10,000 pumping water into the pool, according to the bill, which is much more money than it should cost in a perfect world. Still, Blakeley says that is not a waste.
“I thought that the community investment was more important to have children here in the pool than it was to worry about a few thousand dollars with the water,” Blakeley said. “If it’s going into the sewer system, it’s a faulty valve or it’s a pipe that’s going into the sewer system, is it environmentally important? Yeah, but what’s more important right now? We can close the pool and that denies everybody the summer experience that can walk here that doesn’t have the opportunity to go to the country club or go somewhere else or we can keep the pool going and spend a few dollars on water and keep it going and give everybody that opportunity while we plan, discuss and save and find a way that we can at some point make the pool, the complex a better place.”
Blakeley says no one is disputing the fact that the city is on borrowed time when it comes to the pool. However, he says a new pool would cost between $2.5-$3 million.
“This pool is at the end of its life span and we are trying to help it, nurture it to get us to a point where we can build a beautiful complex,” he said. “We’ll probably have loss again this year too.”
Copyright WJHL 2015. All rights reserved.