MEDFORD — Itchy eyes, faded swimsuits, the overwhelming odor and most of the chlorine have been eliminated from the Medford YMCA pool, thanks to a new pool purification system.
Two weeks ago, the Rogue Valley Family YMCA switched from a chlorine system to an ultraviolet system — the first in Southern Oregon. Every six hours, the pool's 155,000 gallons of water cycle through a light chamber containing a 2.5-kilowatt light bulb. Within seconds, the UV light energy kills the existing bacteria, bugs, viruses and algae.
"It's better for people's skin, better for the environment and better for the organization," said Brad Russell, Rogue Valley YMCA executive director.
In August, Russell visited the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland to check out the club's UV pool system. He spoke with the manager, met with the maintenance staff and took video to share with the YMCA's maintenance crew.
"We really did our homework," Russell said. "As I heard the manager talking about operating costs, the last hurdle was to share this with our donors and the foundation so we could get the initial investment."
The Oregon Community Foundation donated $20,000 toward the project. The Collins Foundation donated $17,000, and the Carpenter Foundation donated $6,000 for the UV system and $9,000 for a handicap entrance.
"There is no way we could have put the system in without the help of those three foundations," said Russell.
The purchase and installation of the UV system has cost $30,000 so far. The YMCA expects that the system will reduce the pool maintenance costs, but Russell said that the actual cost benefits are still uncertain.
"There will be an increase in power, but there is a decrease in the chemicals being used," said Russell. "Our numbers are yet to be determined."
The Jackson County Health Department approved the new UV system on March 25.
A small amount of chlorine will continue to be used with the UV system. The pool will drop its chlorine level from 5 parts per million to 1 part per million — an 80 percent reduction. The chlorine is used only to provide a bit of added protection, said Russell.
"The World Health Organization says it's close to drinking water," he said, adding, "I still don't think you should drink the water."
The UV system also will require much less maintenance except for changing the bulb every year and monitoring the system.
Russell said that the YMCA has received positive feedback from its patrons.
"People have been saying the water feels softer," said David Vanderzwan, a lifeguard and swim instructor. "For me, working in this atmosphere, it's a lot better."
The Rogue Valley YMCA will host a grand opening of the swimming pool with the new UV system at 10 a.m. Thursday.
Reach reporting intern Teresa Beskow at 776-4464 or e-mail email@example.com.