Building an ecological swimming pool

February 7, 2008

Taking a re-look at the swimming pool

One of the joys of village life captured in many a celluloid film was the old well or tank acting as a swimming pool. Many a summer holiday was spent in splashing around and learning the fine art of swimming, diving and cooling off. Cut to modern times and urban affluence, all high end apartments and quite a few houses boast a swimming pool and club house as recreational facilities for the residents. The notion of the swimming pool in a city is that of clean blue waters with a lot of chlorine in it. In fact a recent visit to a large software giant’s campus was revealing. About 4 kgs of bleaching powder was being applied daily to ensure residual chlorine and to kill the bacteria and germs in the waters.

Swimming pools have generally been seen as water wasters. Not only is evaporation of water a major issue but also the cleaning of the pool regularly meant that a large volume of water was discharged to the drains. Recycling systems have reduced this loss of water and made swimming pools much more water efficient. Recycling systems however are energy intensive and unless a pool has UV treatment systems chlorine continues to be used a lot to clean the waters. The challenge therefore is how do you reduce or eliminate water losses, reduce the use of chemicals and finally reduce the use of energy to a minimum yet have a good pool to swim in. The answer designers are exploring is the bio-pool.


What is a bio-pool? The idea of the bio-pool comes from the idea of bio mimicry. By learning from nature and the balance that nature seeks it is the paradigm that one can do away with or minimize. A bio-pool mimics a natural pond. It has several depths of water to move it thermally instead of using a pump. A selection of special, but usually locally growing, plants is placed strategically to make use of their cleansing as well as oxygenation properties. Typha or bulrush or cattail is a favorite choice because of its ability to establish itself and vetiver is another. Plants with a rhizome (an underground stem) such as canna are also preferred. The usual idea is to remove as much of the nitrates and phosphates as possible. This is done to prevent the excessive growth of algae and the subsequent eutrophication of the waters. An anoxic zone is created in certain parts to help fix nitrates and in other parts.

Care has to be taken not to allow the temperature of the water to go too high. This is done with appropriate shading trees in the right directions. The usual maintenance measures would include the removal of leaves using a skimmer and cleaning the pool of organic material as much as possible.

The bio pool itself is divided into two parts, one with the planted filter and stones called the water regeneration part and the other which is the water part where one swims. The pools are lined at the bottom to prevent seepage of water usually with a UV resistant and tear resistant plastic and then lined with earth.

One such bio-pool perhaps one of the first in the region and definitely in the Bangalore area is at the Eco resort in Hessarghatta called Our native village. Enjoy the swimming there with the usual inhabitants of water bodies such as dragon flies hovering over you and tadpoles at a safe distance in a natural pool.


Water wise is certainly about enjoying the gift of water in an ecologically sensitive manner.



  1. A bio-pool is a very interesting concept, one that should be taken seriously. I live in Georgia USA where there is a severe drought and the state has banned all outdoor water use, including filling and maintaining public and private swimming pools (fortunately it’s winter here). Recently it was announced that the swimming pool restrictions will be lifted for the summer despite forecasts of continued drought. While our government wrings its hands and bickers with neighboring states about water rights, no one is taking a serious look at responsible development and water conservation. Part of a effective local and regional water resource management plan must include investigating new and more environmentally sensitive ways to build and maintain pools. I think developing the bio-pool concept is one way to do that.

  2. Hi from Germany: In a lot of villages we have today problems financing public swimming pools. In some villages people got together and started a club to build together there own bio-pool. Often they use the old-style-chlorin-pool and change it to a bio-bool. They keep it running with the help of volunteers and the other costs are not so high, since they use the sun to heat the water and special natural pools to clean the water. Here are some pictures to get some impressions:

  3. I would like to receive accurate information about how the bio-pool works.
    I live in Buenos Aires (Argentina). I am studying archictecture, and I am very interested in studying this type of eco solutions for the comming world.

    Thanking you in advance for your assistance,

    Ana Carolina

  4. I have a small hotel in Djenné, Mali, West Africa. It is thus the Sahel, and water is scarce. We use a lot of water to water our garden, however, which is pumped from our well with a foot pedal pump. We can remove ca 2 cubic metres of water a day. I am now intending to build a small swimming pool, into which we will pump the 2 cubic metres from the well in the morning, and then, at night we will pump out the same quantity of water out of the pool and onto the plantation. In this way we will recycle the water. Do you think this is going to work?

  5. Would like to build a bio swimming pool in my backyard
    Would like to get information


  6. Hi, would you know a designer in Atlanta Georgia?

  7. I live in France and have a bio-pool. The great problem is algae, which grows winter and summer. I have heard there is a pump specifically for bio-pools, which filters and treats the water, removing the algae. Do you know about these pumps and if they work?
    The pool was professionally made and planted with masses of plants, but the algae seems to get caught up in them. It is unpleasant and unsightly.

    • Shirley, thanks so much for your helpful comment. It’s difficult to find people who actually have bio pools to find out the long-term experiences.

      Algae is actually bacteria, not plant life…so it looks like you may have a small problem with the pool, not just the looks.

      I would recommend getting the water tested. In the US, we can send samples of water to laboratories to test it. You need to find out what other bacteria is in the pool, so you can address the problem.

      According to http://pondclearproducts.com/why_do_we_get_algae_blooms.htm Excess Nutrients and sunlight are perfect conditions for algae overgrowth.

      Apparently your filtration system is not cleaning enough organic matter out of the water. You may need to try to limit the direct sunlight that falls on your swimming pond, or have the area redesigned so that the filtration is more effective.

      I would guess another way nutrients may be getting into the pool is from washing into the pool, pet or human waste products getting into the pool or leaves and other debris that should be scooped out.

      Best of luck.

  8. at home we have a kidney-shaped swimming pool that is well maintained, i love swimming on it all day long *

  9. I think developing the concept of bio-pool is a very interesting concept

  10. Wow years later, and biopools don’t seem to have caught on in the US. I am still planning to install a pool on my field.

    I’m learning more over the past couple of years, and my main concern is making sure to eliminate harmful bacteria from the pool.

    It sounds like the pool would need to be elevated a bit to prevent runoff from freely going into the water. And also, maybe it should be COMPLETLEY surrounded by aquatic plants and a boggy area.

    It sounds like I would still need some additives such as beneficial bacteria as well as mechanical filtration. I may also have to invest in occasional testing of the water to make sure that bacterial levels are safe. Any ideas about how often such testing should happen?

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  12. hi i have a bio pool in israel it works very well

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