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No chemicals needed: Nation's first natural pool to open in Minneapolis

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Trips to the public pool are synonymous with chlorine – the bleach-like smell, the tightly shut eyes to avoid a sting, the dry skin after swimming a few laps.

That will all be nonexistent at a new pool in north Minneapolis next year.

Come the summer of 2015, Webber Park on the city's north side will be the site of the first chemical-free, natural filtration public swimming pool in North America.

What does that mean?

The water is cleaned not with chlorine or another similar agent, but rather with plants, according to a release from the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board.

Using strictly gravity, the water flows out from the swimming area and through filters, which collect debris and particles. From there it heads into the "Regeneration Zone," working its way through a collection of rooted aquatic plants that essentially suck out all of the "undesirable components."

A circulation pump then brings the newly cleaned water back up to the swimming area. There are no plants in the swimming area, and no soil is used, according to Pool & Spa News, which wrote about the project when it was first considered two years ago.

Reg Chapman with WCCO visited the construction site Tuesday, offering an early glimpse at what the space will look like.

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He also spoke with Hennepin County Commissioner Jon Olson, who said the pool itself will seem more like a lake or pond than a traditional public swimming pool.

The new pool design includes a 4,500-square-foot wading area with a maximum depth of 39 inches, and a 16,800-square-foot swimming area and lap pool that features five swimming lap lanes – plus a diving area that goes 13 feet deep. There will be no cost to swim.

As is tradition in Minnesota, the pool will become a skating and hockey rink in the winter, WCCO reports.

As of July, the park board had estimated the cost of the project (which includes other renovations at Webber Park) at $7 million. Pool & Spa News reported in 2012 the natural filtration system was expected to be cheaper to maintain than traditional chlorinated pools – but did not have specific numbers.

Two companies – BioNova Natural Pools and Landform – are working with the park board on the project, providing design work and consultation. BioNova's filtration system is the backbone of several similar natural pools in Europe. You can see a gallery of some of their work here.

In 2009, the St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department became the first in the nation to begin using sphagnum moss as part of its public pools' filtration system, the Star Tribune reported. At the time of the 2012 story, Mike Hahm, the director of the department, told the paper it had resulted in a 50 percent decrease in chlorine use.

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