Empty your pool, spa or hot tub the right way

A backyard pool.

If you or someone you know has a swimming pool, spa or hot tub, please take a moment to learn about environmental issues to consider before you, or the company you hire, drain the water. Before providing some tips, two terms – storm sewer and sanitary sewer – need to be explained.

Is there a difference between a storm sewer and a sanitary sewer?

Yes! While many use these terms interchangeably, there is a very important difference.

A storm sewer collects rainwater and snowmelt, usually through catch basins on the streets, and drains the water directly into a local creek or water body without being treated. In our region, this untreated water eventually flows into Lake Ontario.

A sanitary sewer is where all the water used inside your home or business ends up after it has been used. For example, water from toilets, sinks, showers, dishwashers and washing machines. This water flows to a wastewater treatment plant, where it is cleaned and tested before being released back into Lake Ontario.

Storm drain versus sanitary sewer systems
An image showing the difference between a storm sewer (water flowing through this system is not treated at a wastewater treatment plant) and a sanitary sewer (water flowing through this system is treated at a wastewater treatment plant). Image courtesy of Trout Unlimited Canada.

There is a national environmental awareness program designed to teach residents about this important distinction called the Yellow Fish Road program. For information about this program and how you can help spread the word in a fun and interactive way, please read last year’s blog post, “Paint the city yellow!

Participants in the YFR Program
A freshly painted “rainwater only” stencil that is part of the Yellow Fish Road program. Image courtesy of Trout Unlimited Canada.

Now that you know the difference between a storm sewer and a sanitary sewer, let’s discuss the original topic, emptying your pool, spa or hot tub (referred to as pool water throughout this blog post) the right way.

Chlorine or Bromine Pools

Pool water contains several products, such as chlorine and bromine, which help to keep the pool clean. However, if released directly into the storm sewer (the water that’s not treated and ends up directly in water bodies), pool water can have a severe impact on the microorganisms, plants and fish in our ecosystem. As a result, you could face fines under the City of Burlington’s Storm Sewer Discharge Bylaw 86-2002.

What should you do if you have a chlorinated pool?

Dechlorinate the water by letting the pool water sit for a week or two, preferably under sunny conditions. This will allow the chemicals to evaporate, lowering their concentration in the water. Test the pool water to ensure that levels are close to zero. At this point, you can slowly release the water on your lawn to be absorbed into the ground or to a storm sewer on a day when rain is not forecasted. When you release pool water onto your property, there is the added benefit of watering your grass. Pool water discharge is not permitted on private property, without the consent of the owner, or on sensitive lands such as a ravine, valley, wetland, watercourse, etc.

Backyard pool
A backyard pool.

Backwash water

Backwash water, which is created when rinsing the filter with clean water, contains sediment and chemicals. This water must be filtered and dechlorinated, as mentioned above, if it is going to be released in the storm sewer. Otherwise, it must be discharged into the sanitary sewer, as mentioned below, or across the lawn on your property.

Saltwater pools

Unlike chlorine or bromine pools, letting a saltwater pool’s water sit will not alter the salt levels within the water. As a result, saltwater pools must be slowly emptied into the sanitary sewer connected to your home or removed by an approved waste hauler. Under no circumstance can a saltwater pool be discharged into a storm sewer, a sanitary manhole or directly into a ravine or creek. The saltwater itself can kill aquatic organisms. Saltwater pools should only be drained during dry weather and never during a storm. For homes with a sanitary lateral (commonly called a sewer pipe) cap, the homeowner can remove the cap with a wrench and slowly drain the saltwater pool through this pipe. Another option is to drain the pool through a laundry tub in the basement.

Backyard pool
A saltwater backyard pool.

For more information

Check out an informative video produced by the City of London, Ont. called Drain Your Pool the Right Way that explains everything highlighted above.

Enjoy the rest of summer.

Take Action Burlington. Empty your pool, spa or hot tub the right way. Collectively, we can make a difference.

A hot tub
A hot tub.

This post was originally published in August 2016. It was decided to post an updated version to help raise the level of awareness about this important topic.

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