La Jolla Y sees pool closures due to mechanical, biological ‘incidents’

The Dan McKinney Family YMCA aquatic center has been subject to partial and full pool closures in recent months, raising the eyebrows of some who use the facility. Citing text alerts from the Y, one La Jolla Light reader reported that in recent weeks, there were closures to at least one pool on Aug. 25, 26, 27, 28 and 31, and Sept. 2, 4, 6, 10, 14, 16, 18 and 24. But the pool-closing frequency, members say, goes back months.

“There are a lot of different factors that would result in a pool closure,” explained JoJo Pope, YMCA director of Aquatics & Environmental Health & Safety, “anything from staffing deficiency, which is something pools across San Diego County are facing due to lifeguard shortages; maintaining healthy water balance, so if there is a chemical imbalance or if we need to intervene before there is a chemical imbalance; or, unfortunately, sometimes we have a biological issue where a small child takes a ‘potty break’ in the pool.

“We have certain regulatory standards we must meet with healthy water and maintaining chemical levels, so the water is good for swimmers and bacteria is killed. When there is a fecal incident, it could mean a 20-minute closure or a pool could closed for hours and hours.”

The Dan McKinney Family YMCA opened to the public in September 2016 and has four water features: the rec pool for casual or family swims, the lap pool for athletes, a “splash pad” (user-activated sprinkler system) for children and a hot tub.

“We are a community service organization, so the last thing we want to have happen is the closure of any of our facilities,” said YMCA associate executive director Jason Milosh. “But per County health codes, we have to close them (sometimes). If (water quality) doesn’t meet the standard, we have to do what we can to get it right. We are very diligent about this. We want to keep these bodies of water open all the time, but unfortunately, that is never going to happen.”

Calling some closures due to “cumulative impacts,” Pope said there are also mechanical issues and emergency plumbing repairs that arise on a somewhat regular basis.

“There’s a lot of equipment that keeps the water balanced — chemical-feed systems, heaters, filters, pumps, etc.,” she explained. “So even though this is a relatively new facility, they still go out, and when those systems are down, we cannot operate the pool. Planned maintenance can be done during off-hours, but our pool is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week and sometimes we can’t do repairs in the middle of the night.”

Couple that with the high volume of swimmers who use the pools every week, so naturally, there will be systemic wear and tear. Milosh said 125-150 swimmers used the recreational pool at peak times, and during the summer, 550 children were in the pool each week.

“It’s a huge operation and all the sunscreen — and whatever else people have on their bodies — all goes into the water that we have to keep clean. It all adds up,” he said.

But, Pope noted: “There isn’t anything abnormal here that we wouldn’t see anywhere else at a comparable facility.”

To get ahead of the “biological incidences” that can occur with children, youngsters who use the pool are instructed to get out once every half hour for opportunities to use the bathroom.

“We’re trying to reduce accidents and be proactive so parents make sure their children go to the bathroom and they don’t do it in the pool,” Milosh said. “That started this summer with the increased volume and so many families with young children.”

Pope added: “Sometimes parents don’t understand the severity of this problem. They think (going to the bathroom in the pool) is just an accident and they apologize on behalf of their child, but they don’t realize that accident could mean a shutdown of half an hour or 24 hours. We’re trying to get ahead of the curve.”

She said the YMCA sells “swim diapers” for those who might not be toilet- trained. Children under age 4 years old are required to wear a swim diaper when using the pool facilities.

— Dan McKinney Family YMCA is at 8355 Cliffridge Ave. (858) 453-3483, lajolla.ymca.org, facebook.com/LaJollaYMCA

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