EcoPools Interview

Written by: Emmanuel

By liking what we do and living our meaning, we're in harmony with everyone and everything. Emmanuel van der Meulen. CEO, Peace Evolution.

Published: November 27, 2020

00:01 Introduction to Eco Pools

The water business for many [many] years, before we started Eco Pools [uh] I started in about 1983 working on fish farms and I’ve been in aquaculture for a long time [uh] I got my PhD in bio-engineering in 2003 and in about 2006 we started, well I started Eco Pools with a partner of mine. [um] and that was just a way that I could apply my bio-engineering qualification and all those years of aqua culture experience to something which is actually a tangible difference immediately, you know aquaculture is a bit of [uh] factory farming. There’s no difference between factory farming chickens and factory farming fish and my heart really wasn’t in it for all those years and this was an opportunity to really make a tangible difference to water situations and to people and how they perceive clean rather than sterile and its an important distinction to make. [uh] so we started about 10 years ago a pool that someone was struggling with, she hated the chlorine, it was leaking [uh] she didn’t want to do anything with it she wanted to fill it up with sand and because I had been designing filtration systems for commercial aquaculture which demanded a very high-water quality it seemed like the logical thing to apply the same principals to a swimming pool as we were applying to large marine and fresh water hatcheries. And it [oh] worked ok you know it worked well if I look back all those years ago. [uh] we doing things very differently now to when we started, but it worked well enough you know and [uh] she was happy with it. Her next door neighbour took one look at it and said it was wonderful [inaudible].

Emmanuel: Yeah, certainly very interesting and the very last question I am going to ask is what you described now about your first project if you can do that with our pool but I will get to that in a moment.Top

Jerome: Laughs and says ok. Top

02:35 What is aquaculture?

Emmanuel: Yeah, the word that you were using just now, did you say aquaponics? In other words, water culture?

Jerome: Yes, aquaculture is farming aquatic organisms.

Emmanuel: I understand.

Jerome: So yeah whether its fish or oysters or whatever. Top

02:54 What is the difference between Eco Pools and Conventional Pools?

Emmanuel: Now what I am interested in is how Eco Pools are different to conventional pools and you were talking now [now] about leaking is [is] that something that the Eco Pools also addresses or is that just something that you also do? If you can just give us a little bit of background in comparing the 2?

Jerome: Ok [ok] well that is a good question, I think I’ll answer that question first and then go back to what the difference is. You know the wonderful thing about an Eco Pool is that it’s a living entity, it’s not a dead sterile body of water that if a frog falls in it dies you know. It’s a living body of water that accepts the frog and makes more frogs [um] so the difference is essentially that the pool is sterile and [uh] eco pools are not they’re alive they are full of life you not trying to kill everything so really the difference is in the whole approach. I always explain it in this way and I explain it from a water chemistry perspective that’s really the route that we have gone lately so you get to the route of the water chemistry because it’s all about getting that organic chemistry right. So, you know water is a universal solvent, if 2 hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom make the water molecule and it’s a highly polar molecule in other words it’s got a highly negative and a highly positive pole to it and whenever anything drops into the water it rips whatever other molecule to pieces and that’s why it becomes a universal solvent, it just dissolves everything and at the same time when all those hydrogen molecules line up on the surface of the water everything is attracted to it so it attracts dust and pollen and leaves and even a plastic bag floating above will be drawn down onto the surface through hydrostatic forces and then it dissolves and so the nutrient content of water continuously increases. [uh] so a normal swimming pool will have a very high nutrient content cause the waters constantly dissolving everything around. Then the algae loves to grow in a high nutrient environments, sunlight, water and nutrients is what algae and all plants need to grow and so in a conventional pool what you do is poison the algae starting to grow and it will go away for a while and then you have to poison it again and as the years go by your nutrients keep on climbing so it becomes harder and harder to balance the water chemistry. So, what we do as opposed to that constant killing is we say ok life wants to grow in water, why don’t we choose what life we want to grow in it and so we choose the right microbial environment, we choose the right levels for plants to grow in and we create an environment where the plants are out competing the algae because the plants are sucking up all the nutrients and there’s nothing left for the algae.

Emmanuel: Oh. So sorry to interrupt what you are saying is [um] where in the other way, in a conventional pool to remove the algae, whereas here, we saying let’s use it productively in feeding what we want to feed?

Jerome: Not really.

Emmanuel: Oh, ok.

Jerome: What we do is we setting up a competition, nature is highly competitive, things compete with each other all the time so what we do is we tipping the scales so we say we are going to use plants that are more efficient at using the nutrients than the algae is and therefore the algae doesn’t stand a chance.

Emmanuel: Ok, got you. So that [leads me] brings me to the next question. Top

07:01 Does an Eco Pool also address leaking?

Jerome: Oh, sorry I didn’t answer your question about the leaking.

Emmanuel: Oh, yes. Yes [yes, yes] please.

Jerome: Ok, so when we convert a pool that’s always been a chemical pool, what chemicals do is they make everything brittle, they constantly eating away at the sides of the pool, they constantly eating away at the pipes etc. as soon as you get rid of that highly corrosive chemical environment the water becomes very soft and nurturing. So, the process of getting towards the leak stops. In addition to that if there is a very fine crack in the concrete what happens is that little animals, bacteria and fungi and things like that start to grow in those little cracks and pools can selfheal, they can actually start to heal themselves.

Emmanuel: Ok, so water even to what a pool consists of will heal that material?

Jerome: The [the the cracks] damage that has been done by the chemicals will be undone by the [by the] natural life that wants to grow where there is a natural flow of water.

Emmanuel: Yeah and even to the extent [even to the extent] of repairing the crack or am I not understanding?

Jerome: Yes, absolutely, to the extent of repairing the crack, if the crack is small enough.

Emmanuel: Yeah of course.

Jerome:  Where it’s a big crack you have to make it narrower, but often you know a leak in the pool is not a big crack, it’s a fine hairline crack of water seeping through.

Emmanuel: I understand, yeah. Now it sounds as if this is almost magic, but it makes sense in terms of that it’s nature doing its job at fixing things.

Jerome: Yes, absolutely you know, I think it’s a big lesson that humans need to learn and that we are slowly learning, we need to get out of the way. We need to stop fighting nature and observe it very carefully and see how it works and work with it (Emmanuel agrees in the background) and see exactly the principles that are used.

Emmanuel: Very interesting. Top

09:31 How to maintain an Eco Pool?

Emmanuel: Now in terms of maintenance, is an Eco Pool maintenance wise as much work as a conventional pool or less, or more, or the same more or less?

Jerome: It is a very different maintenance activity, so where as a chemical pool is about balancing the chemicals, you know having the pH exactly correct and you know bombing the water every once in a while, what a natural pool becomes is a gardening exercise where you have to feed the plants back. You have to vacuum the bottom from time to time, but you don’t need a creepy crawly going all the time so it becomes less in its intensity and more in its pleasure you know. But if you don’t like cutting plants then it is a pain you know because you have to keep on cutting those plants back or they start to take over. Plants can get really big and kind of compete with each other so you want to keep it well trimmed and neat and you have to empty leaf baskets cause you like to keep the surface clean.

Emmanuel: Yes.

Jerome: But on the balance, I would say it’s a lot less maintenance especially once the pool has settled in you know, it needs a settling in period. Top

10:58 Would avid gardeners enjoy Eco Pools?

Emmanuel: And my wife being an avid gardener, she would enjoy this?

Jerome: Oh man, I love the opportunity, when I can spend time at my pool at home, I love it.

Emmanuel: Yes Top

11:12 If there are plants in the pool, how do I swim in it?

Emmanuel: Ok, Jerome, what I’m not clear on is where are these plants? Are they in the swimming pool themselves? How do I swim in the pool then?

Jerome: Right, Ok, so the pool is always divided into different sections one section has the plants in it and the other section is open water. So the pool is divided either with a wall in the pool, sometimes when we do conversions we build a wall through the middle of the pool or around the edges of the pool so that the plants are in one section and there’s always an open swimming section that’s got no plants. Top

11:54 What sort of relationship exists between the plant and clear water divide?

Emmanuel:  Ok, understood. And [uh, uh] the comparison between the part where you have plants and where the clear water is, what [what] sort of relationship do you need there?

Jerome: In terms of space?

Emmanuel: Size yeah.

Jerome: Well it all depends on the technology that we employ, so over the years we have developed a variety of different technologies, some more intensive than others. [uh] and by intensifying it I mean that we put in more specialised technologies in the form of different mineral gravels to filter the water through which improves the way it works [um] different ways of pumping there’s just things we have evolved over time so, it ranges from about 30% of the [of the] total surface being planted to about 50% of the total surface being planted.

Emmanuel: I understand, right I just want to sneak in a question on our pool at home. It’s a rock pool and it takes up all the space but at the terrace, just a little bit higher there is the space relationship that you are mentioning to know [uh] referring to now. Can these 2 different [um] parts of the pool be at different levels.

Jerome: Yes absolutely.

Emmanuel: Oh, nice.

Jerome: So, you can put the plants at the higher terrace and let the water flow back into the pool or you can have a lower terrace and have the water flow down into the eco zone. Top

13:45 Can we use our existing pool pump for the Eco Pool or do you have a specific pump for Eco Pools?

Emmanuel: Ok so, and can we just use the existing pool pump or do you, as part of what you do, let’s call it a conversion do you then also bring in different types of pumps?

Jerome: Yes, we definitely bring in a different type of pump, because you know your conventional pump, we have to run the pumps 24 hours a day.

Emmanuel: Understood, yeah.

Jerome: Cause you’ve got to keep everything alive and if you did that with your conventional pool pump it would cost a fortune in electricity.

Emmanuel: Correct.

Jerome: So, we change the pump and we generally using about 95 watts you know as opposed to your conventional pool pump which is like 1000 watts. So, we’re reducing electricity consumption dramatically by bringing in our commercial pumps even if they are running for longer it’s about a 60-70% saving on electricity over all. Top

14:42 Could I run the Eco Pool pump off a solar panel?

Emmanuel: That’s excellent, I suppose if I take it a step further I could say why don’t we run that pump with a solar panel?

Jerome: Yes, you can absolutely, we have done a couple of those but you know the investment in alternating current, I mean in direct current is high you know. You have to buy the panels, the pumps are much more expensive, with the current electricity prices it only really makes sense when there aren’t any electricity points.

Emmanuel: Ok, so [so] what you saying is from a solar voltaic panel to your inverter to your pump is just making it too expensive?

Jerome: It seems to be at the moment you know. There are a couple of clients who [who, who] want to be off the grid and for them we have devised a whole set up but for the average client you know when we only running 95 watts if you look at the cost, it’s very low. Top

15:56 What about mosquitoes when one has an Eco Pool?

Emmanuel: I understand 100%, thank you so far, now the other interesting question, or I think it’s interesting. What about the mosquitoes in [in] an Eco Pool are they going to be part of the pool?

Jerome: No, you know mosquitoes are very vulnerable because they are one of the few insects that do not have gills so they depend on hanging down from the meniscus and breathing through a little tube, that’s why the choose very protective environments. An ideal environment for a mosquito is like in a tin can or a tyre or the bottom of your gutter, somewhere where there’s very little space for anything else. Preferably an environment where there’s no oxygen in the water. But with an Eco Pool, you develop an entire eco system in there and so there are plenty of predators, there is dragon fly larvae and diving beetles and may flies and all sorts of predators looking for a vulnerable little mosquito head upside down on the meniscus to eat so they get taken out very quickly. Even if they appear, they are around for a couple of days and then they gone.

Emmanuel: Ok, interesting. I have to say when you started introducing the Eco Pool and your first project, it’s exactly where we are. I have thought le’ts close the pool up and make parking and my wife has said no chance and we were both very excited when we uncovered Eco Pools.

Jerome: Well let me tell you in the Western Cape we are suffering from this terrible drought, and one of the exciting things that you can use your pool for is a water store, so you can let the water from your roof drain directly into the pool and we have developed a technology called eco islands which is based on the papyrus beds on the Okavango swamps. They float on the pools surface, they tied to the edges so that they can float up and down with the level of the water so they purify your water. The roof water can flow into your pool they circulate it through the eco island and then you can pump that water back up and use it in your home you know, it’s drinkable. So instead of closing your pool up in a drought, actually what you should be doing is converting it into a natural system. You can then drink that water rather than this disgusting, chlorinated poison. You can’t drink your pool water. Top

18:52 Waste water treatment and using your pool as a water storage facility.

Emmanuel: No, I understand. Well I think there would be a proportion issue? Ok, our pool is very small, it’s more a splash pool than anything else so the water collecting on the roof and flowing into that will fill it chop [chop] and then t will just over flow [flow over] ok but I understand what you are saying. Is this also part of your waste water treatment?

Jerome: It can be, if you don’t use the water for drinking in the house then you can take all your grey water, put it through our treatment system, our waste water treatment system which is based on very similar principles to the pool filtration [um] by the time it leaves the system it is no longer grey, it no longer smells and is perfect to use.

Emmanuel: Wow

Jerome: And you can use your pool as a store, you know the whole system can be circulated. Reduce your [your] consumption from the grid enormously with that system.

Emmanuel: Yeah, this certainly sounds interesting. And I just had another thought, seeing as the pool is small. We could always pump water out of the pool and store it somewhere else?

Jerome: Yes, yes, absolutely you can. But I mean if your pool is very small, you know, I would use the grey water and pump it directly to a tank and use the roof water just for the pool. Top

20:35 Can a conventional pool easily be converted into an Eco Pool?

Emmanuel: I understand, ok [ok]. Well thank you so far, now the other question that I am curious about, and it sounds like I don’t have to ask the question, seeing as how we’ve discussed it so far so a conventional pool or in our case a rock pool can easily be converted into an Eco Pool?

Jerome: Yeah, yeah. Look it’s never as easy as building a new pool because the conversion has compromise around, but yes absolutely. About half our business is conversions and we’ve developed over the years so many different ways of doing it that you know however the budget allows or [inaudible] it’s a relatively simple thing.

Emmanuel: I understand. Top

21:25 Do you service the whole of South Africa?

Emmanuel: Jerome but now do you service the whole of South Africa or just a particular area?

Jerome: We have offices in Cape Town and we have offices in Johannesburg, [um] our Johannesburg offices service the whole of Gauteng and up to Hoedspruit, Limpopo and Mpumalanga and we also have a [a] what we call a guided construction where we sell the design including the drawing to people who are just too far away to make financial [inaudible].

Emmanuel: Like a do it yourself?

Jerome: That’s it. And we sell them the pumps that they need and the plants and whatever they need we can get it all up to them and they build it themselves using our design.

Emmanuel: Very interesting. We’ll definitely have to invite you back for some more information, [um] so far it sounds very [very] interesting Jerome. Is there anything else that you, we drawing to a close now very shortly? Is there anything else that you want to share further that we might have missed so far?

Jerome: [Shew] you know if you do something every day there’s so much to talk about. I think just to focus people’s ideas about what it is that they are doing when they are installing a new system and I think the biggest benefit of having an Eco Pool is the quality of the swim. When you get into living water it changes the way that you feel and that can’t compare to anything else so that I think is the ultimate reward and as well I think the ally to that is the aesthetic value of having something beautiful and natural as opposed to dead and rather plain and the value of that is 12 months a year. You know a swimming pool that you using a couple of months a year and the rest of the time it’s something that you have to service, this ugly blue hole, where as if it’s an Eco Pool it’s a water feature and every day you are getting value out of it and it’s increasing the predator count in your garden so you’ll have less mosquitoes actually if you’ve got an Eco Pool. [inaudible] so it makes it a quality difference that really can’t be quantified, besides all the practical benefits that you get from it. Top

24:05 What are the costs for an Eco Pool?

Emmanuel: Ok, certainly sounds interesting. What I didn’t ask [ok] so we going to give your website address in a moment so people can contact you via the website address and therefore ask for a quote and so forth, but can we just for a moment stop and look at costs [um] ok so we’ve touched on all the benefits but it sounds like our pool conversion will cost R 1 000 000 [uh] from all the benefits we going to get (chuckles in the background) but I suppose it’s a practical thing but can you give us more or less, not saying a price or anything but how does it compare what sort of price range are we looking at for a conversion of an average pool or a small pool etc. just to give our listeners an idea?

Jerome: Well using eco island to convert a pool, probably an average size pool [you know] would cost about R 50 000 to start.

Emmanuel: Sorry, I didn’t catch that amount just say that again?

Jerome: About 50 000.

Emmanuel: I see, ok [ok].

Jerome: Yes, for an average size pool, you know for a smaller pool it would be a bit less, for a bigger pool it would be a bit more and it ranges up you know, if you want waterfalls and rock features and beautiful lily pads and all sorts of things then it can cost much more.

Emmanuel: Yes.

Jerome: I mean we’ve done very fancy installations of [inaudible]. But that’s obviously not for everyone.

Emmanuel: Yeah, I certainly saw some very interesting pools on your website which I can see and fully understand it will be pricey.

Jerome: Yes.

Emmanuel: Ok, so if there’s nothing else, I am going to close up [uh] anything else? Last call? Top

26:07 Waste Water Treatment System Described.

Jerome: [um] I just wanted to describe our waste water treatment just a little bit.

Emmanuel: Ok, please do.

Jerome:  Yes, because it’s so pertinent in the Western Cape at the moment and you know about 30% of our water usage is flushing the toilet and to use drinking water for that is crazy. The problem with conventional grey water systems is that you have to use the water immediately, you can’t just store it.

Emmanuel: Yes.

Jerome: It goes off.

Emmanuel: Correct.

Jerome: It doesn’t smell and you can put it back into your toilet again and it can just sit there forever and it’s a wetland based system but as opposed to most wetland based systems it cannot block. That’s the whole key of our technology, it’s impossible for the system to block. And that’s the big problem with grey water wetlands is that eventually the microbial population gets thick and it blocks and so that’s the real benefit and [and] I’m telling you it should be law, you shouldn’t be able to flush your toilet with drinking water.

Emmanuel: Certainly, yeah, I understand. So just on that note, Radio Live Green Smart started as a result of us building a green home [um] and we basically catch the rain water and we use that for the washing machine, the toilets and for garden irrigation so I understand what you are meaning. Ok, anything else Jerome?

Jerome: [uh, no] no just the website [uh] details and if you ever wanted to do this again I’m always available.

Emmanuel: Ok, please [uh] give our listeners your website address.

Jerome: Should I do it now?

Emmanuel: Yes, please.

Jerome: So, it’s

Emmanuel: Thank you, so all the contact details are there so we don’t have to give out contact details now.

Jerome. No, has a contact page on it. Top

28:22 Wrap Up

Emmanuel: Ok, right listeners, so that was Dr. Jerome Davis, founder of Eco Pools. Thank you very much for all your very interesting information.

Jerome: Sure, it’s a pleasure.

Emmanuel: Ok, I’ll just repeat the website its and then further please note where we interview or run adverts the content is not necessarily endorsed by Radio Live Green Smart. I’m Emmanuel, your host, and over to the music. Top


End of Transcript Top

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