By David R. Knighton, MD and Vance Fiegel, B.S.

Barry Thompson from the Metropolis Resort in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, helped design the resort’s Chaos Waterpark to be energy efficient, conserve water and to utilize other smart green technologies. But he didn’t plan for perhaps the greenest element introduced at Chaos in early 2011 — the use of sphagnum moss — to condition water, reduce chemical loads and maintenance times and to improve the overall user and staff experiences, including the air quality. The fun, colorful facility is part of the sprawling Metropolis site that also features a huge indoor arcade and an elaborate 18-hole, outdoor mini-golf site; the waterpark, which opened in May 2009, may be its crown jewel.

Using regenerative filters to reduce water, heat and chemicals, pool water is heated with waste heat from the adjoining hotel with an advanced recycling system that saves on natural gas costs, while energy reduction for heating and ventilation are gleaned through an optical population counter that automatically modulates the variable-frequency drives used for heating. Ventilation is adjusted based on swimmer headcount.

Waterpark owner Mark Steil says he budgeted $35,000 (USD) per month for energy costs prior to opening, but that figure has been cut roughly in half. Water flow through the park’s Super Hero features is regulated based on the number of people enjoying its thrills and green amenities. And its slip-proof safety flooring, which should be considered for an industry standard not only in waterparks but in indoor pools everywhere, provides a huge savings for insurance, reducing that cost by half. Chaos Waterpark continues to win awards from the waterpark trade press, building publications and family-friendly consumer media, and now it’s setting up to be one of the most innovative waterparks anywhere.

How the treatment change made a difference

In January 2011, Thompson and staff installed an all-natural water treatment system using moss that is increasingly becoming the innovative water conditioning system of choice for public pools and college pools in the upper Midwest. Thompson, a retired Navy Master Chief, withheld comment on the game-changing water management application until he could see results after six months. The results and benefits can now speak for themselves at what is arguably the greenest waterpark in the world.

Based on extensive laboratory studies, Creative Water Solutions has discovered that the moss inhibits biofilm formation and removes biofilm in standard biofilm assay systems. How the moss does this is still being researched. It is believed but not yet substantiated that sphagnum moss inhibits biofilm formation by a biochemical process still being studied and identified. While the temptation to call the moss packets ‘filters’ has been pervasive early in its usage, the moss is not really a filtration system: It acts more as a water-conditioning complement or a water treatment component, working in concert with traditional pool chemicals and filters.

To date, the moss’ effectiveness in the growing numbers of public pools and waterparks like Chaos and thousands of residential pools and spas across the US and Canada is setting a new “natural standard” for recreational water usage. But its potential application in many other industries — any place there is water and biofilm — is both exciting and revolutionary. Sphagnum moss might one day be used to treat water cooling towers, serve as a water filtration device for the home, be used as an aid in manufacturing and industry, or applied in natural and stormwater ponds. At Chaos Waterpark, it is currently improving the quality and clarity o of water for all who come in contact with this greenest of facilities.

Water feature specifications

  • Lazy River                 97,000 gallons (367,184.94 liters)
  • Activity Pool             73,000 gallons (276,335.06 liters)
  • Two Spas                   2,200 gallons each (8,327.90 liters)

Measureable quantities/cost benefits

Before deployment of sphagnum moss:

  • Chlorine consumption: 350 gallons (1,324.89 liters) per week.
  • Average CO2 consumption: 1,200 pounds per week  
  • Spa drain requirement: 2-3 times per week
  • Maintaining alkalinity at 85 required 15 gallons (56.78 liters) of hydrochloric acid each week.
  • Acid washing of scale and biofilm buildup took place every three days.

After deployment:

  • Chlorine consumption: 110-120 gallons (416.39-454.24 liters) per week; the moss enhances the efficiencies of chlorine usage.
  • CO2 consumption (reduced by 37 percent): 200 pounds per week
  • Spa drain requirement: 2-3 days every month
  • Hydrochloric acid consumption: five gallons (18.92 liters) per month
  • Biofilm and scale on the park’s water features, walls, and floors “have virtually disappeared,” giving the pool a fresher, more vivid look — and reducing maintenance times by a third or more. Acid cleaning takes place every 2–3 months — if needed.
  • Combined chlorine has stabilized at very low numbers and the water has not needed to be shocked to maintain water quality. Previously, shocking was done once a month to maintain quality, but it has not needed shocking since the introduction of the moss, saving hundreds of dollars a month just for the reduced maintenance time and materials alone.
  • There is major corrosion reduction due to the dramatic enhancement in air quality, and a corresponding reduction in preventative-maintenance man-hours.

For city and state health inspectors who have been monitoring the usage of sphagnum moss at the park as part of the first waterpark pilot project of its kind in Wisconsin and the world, there was a fair amount of skepticism in the air. But the results and benefits have won them over. “We’ve seen lots of things thrown at us over the years that make bold claims about being natural and so forth,” they said. “But the moss really lives up to its billing. It’s like swimming in Aquafina ™!”

Staff and user benefits

Besides the quantifiable results and benefits, the moss also provides dramatic human benefits and enhanced qualities for staff — including maintenance crews and lifeguards — as well as customers.

  • The moss has greatly improved water quality. “It’s polished water! It has a different feel and shine to it. It sparkles — and it stays that way.”
  • Chlorine byproducts no longer permeate the air.
  • Irritants to swimmers eyes, hair, skin and swimwear is usually non-existent with moss usage.
  • Lifeguards report a dramatic reduction in headaches from chloramines and DPBs due to reduced usage and the increased efficacy of chlorine.
  • Lifeguards and other staff report lower absenteeism due to a more natural, less chemically filled work environment.

According to Thompson, the more inviting water and air at Chaos has made it more appealing to regular — and new — customers. “Word-of-mouth publicity, combined with key print and broadcast news stories about the moss at the waterpark, has helped make the park a destination waterpark, despite fierce competition nearby and a slow economy. That’s a huge victory for this highly competitive, green enterprise. Our air, water and quality of life at Chaos changed tremendously forever since we started using sphagnum moss.”

About the company

Creative Water Solutions ( is based in the Twin Cities. The company’s mission is to develop and market plant-based, ecologically sustainable, scientifically researched water conditioning products that enhance consumers’ experiences and minimize environmental impact. Founded in 2003, Creative Water Solutions creates innovative products that use moss non-invasively harvested with methods that allow for natural regeneration, minimal secondary processing and sustainable production.

About the product

The sphagnum moss-based water conditioning system, PoolNaturally® Plus helps reduce chemical loads, maintenance time and corrosion to pool hardware, while providing recreational users with more natural water that doesn’t irritate skin, scalp, or hair, or bleach out bathing suits. The product also helps reduce the smell of chlorine byproducts in the air, to provide better air quality at indoor facilities.



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