Conflicted Interests

By Jim McCloskey

The other day, a friend sent me a link to an Australian web site promoting a town council’s campaign to get homeowners to convert their swimming pools into ponds. I know of several watershapers who get involved in these sorts of projects stateside; in fact, WaterShapes EXTRA once featured a pool-to-pond transformation in which an old, unused pool became a great display pond for a garden center (linked below).

The point that grabbed my attention

on the Australian site was its declaration that all it took to produce a complete pool-to-pond conversion was pulling the plug and pretty much leaving the rest to nature: Once the chlorine dissipated, the algae would bloom, the mosquitoes would come – and then it would be time to introduce fish and plants. And this no muss, no fuss process could easily be reversed if the homeowner ever rekindled an interest in swimming laps or entertaining the grandkids.

There are a couple things that bother me about the program, but before I get there, I offer three stipulations:

1) I’m an aging homeowner with an empty nest, and I recognize that we’re using our swimming pool far less than we once did.

2) I’m not someone who’s ever been overwhelmed by pool maintenance, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it after more than 20 years of practice. But I don’t think I’d mourn if the chores went away.

3) As a homeowner, I’ve always enjoyed fine-tuning my surroundings and keeping them fresh, so I appreciate the urge to change things up periodically and bring new zing to my backyard environment.

For all that, I can’t see the wham-bam conversions these Aussies are discussing as being truly satisfactory or satisfying. Actually, I get the sense that the enthusiastic site, video spokespeople and brochures are over-promising – and get a not-so-vague feeling that they’re under-delivering as well.

First, we still do use our pool on occasion, and I would miss it if it truly became unavailable – especially now I also have the needs of a grandchild to consider. Second, I’ve never run into a backyard-scale pond that didn’t require a good dose of initial attention and, longer term, a course of ongoing, routine maintenance – not to mention some form of circulation system, which the conversion program’s sponsors say is not needed and is in fact their main selling point because of the money to be saved by turning off the pool pump.

Third and finally, I harbor the thought that the change wouldn’t be as visually dramatic as I might hope: The new pond would keep the old pool’s basic footprint, including in my case a long, curving stretch of coping and a beam raised against a slope. “Masking” that appearance would be just that, and I can’t see the change as being sufficient without at the very least getting rid of most of my brick coping and going with an alternative that offers a more naturalistic look.

In other words, I’d be concerned that what I’d end up with is less a transformation and more an awkward cosmetic patch. And as for the Aussies’ claims about reversing the process, wouldn’t it involve replacing most of the disused equipment set and refinishing the pool’s interior?

My initial reaction to the information I received was, “This is way too good to be true.” Then I began to hope that others who received information from the sponsoring town council would be similarly analytical and skeptical.

Don’t get me wrong: I think pool-to-pond conversions have their place in the world, but it’s about lots more than shutting off the pump and dumping in some fish!

If you’re curious, you can get to the Australian web site by clicking here.

Also, to see what I believe really should be involved in a pool-to-pond conversion, click here to gain access to a two-part video on a transformative project we ran in WaterShapes EXTRA in the summer of 2012.

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