California Natural Pools
By Misty Hall
It’s almost summer time! That means lots of time in the sun — and probably the swimming pool, too. Sure, you’re having fun and getting exercise in that sparkling blue water. But have you ever stopped to think about what you’re swimming in, and why it stings your eyeballs and turns your hair green?
“We’re paying attention to what we put in our bodies; we’re looking at all THOSE chemicals,” points out Peggy Wiles. “But we’re still swimming in chemicals!”
Peggy and her friend/business partner, Troy Becker, are offering an alternative to traditional swimming pools, and all the chemicals necessary to keep them clean. Their company, California Natural Pools, builds systems that mimic processes found in nature to create an entirely chemical-free — and entirely safe — swimming pool.
There are a lot of misconceptions about what a “natural swimming pool” actually is. “People will say, ’Oh, I have one of those, I have a salt water pool.’ Well, a salt pool is not a natural pool!” Peggy says. “It’s a chemical pool that goes one step worse for the environment. It puts those salts into the groundwater, and they never go away.” Some cities and municipalities have even started banning salt water pools.
Natural swimming pools are, by design and by necessity, “wetlands ecosystems,” Peggy says. In the simplest of terms, California Natural Pools uses plants and other living organisms to naturally filter the water.
“They’re a beneficial bacterial factory,” Troy says. “It’s safe and healthy. It’s natural, living water. A chemical pool — that’s dead water.”
Typically, a natural swimming pool will have two main areas: the swimming pool itself, and the regeneration zone — basically, a lush green pond through which the swimming pool water is pumped to purify it. The regeneration zone can surround the actual swimming pool, as it is found in nature, or it can be in a separate (but connected) location nearby. If space is limited, the new technology of biofilters can now serve as a substitute for a normal regeneration zone.
But it’s hard to beat the appeal of having not only a pool to swim in, but an aesthetically pleasing pond to enjoy, as well.
“It’s the perfect opportunity for people who want a garden, who want flowers and blooms and color in their landscape,” Peggy says. “But you’re not just pouring irrigation water on plants. You’ve got a beautiful water garden in your yard, all contained. But you’re not wasting that water. It’s part of an ecosystem and a balance of beautiful plants.”
Within the regeneration zone are fully submerged underwater plants such as hornwort and eelgrass, as well as plants that emerge from the surface, like calla lilies, lotus, papyrus, miniature cattails, and grasses. They break down organic impurities and purify the water.
Another benefit of a natural pool: more wildlife. “Dragonflies, bees, frogs — they’re all signs of a good ecosystem,” Troy explains. “We’re actually looking for those things to make sure it (the pool) is working properly.”
But getting it to work properly requires a lot of training. “This is not something you can just learn from a book,” Troy says of building natural swimming pools. “You really need to know what you’re doing. You’re creating an ecosystem.” They go to Europe several times a year, where natural swimming pools are far more established and normalized than they are in the U.S., and where there are more builders. There, they attend educational seminars with BioNova experts, the company whose methods and equipment California Natural Pools utilizes, and through which they are licensed. They also have a chance to meet with peers, with whom they can swap techniques and troubleshoot. “We have partners in Russia, Egypt, Switzerland, Dubai, the Philippines, Australia,” Troy says, “The best pond and pool builders in the world are part of this.”
All of which gives California Natural Pools the tools they need to create some pretty incredible natural swimming pools. One of them, built in Ojai, was featured in the Animal Planet TV series, “The Pool Master.” They’ve also converted a number of traditional pools into natural swimming pools. They’ve even participated in the construction of the United States’ first public natural swimming pool, in Minneapolis’s Webber Park.
Sure, Troy and Peggy admit, a natural swimming pool does cost more to install than a traditional pool. But once established, these little habitats actually cost less to maintain. According to the California Natural Pools website, “The biological circulation loop can be operated 24 hours a day with approximately the same amount of energy as two 100W light bulbs.”
These natural swimming pool systems can also be expanded to larger systems. Currently, California Natural Pools is restoring an entire private lake to make it safe for swimming — and the surrounding wildlife. The same can be done with agricultural retention ponds.
But they recognize not everyone’s in the market for a natural pool, so Troy does still build traditional swimming pools, in addition to offering service and parts for them through the Ojai Pool Store in Meiners Oaks. When servicing and troubleshooting with clients, Troy says, “We don’t treat the symptom, we solve the problem — so people don’t have to come back.” And when building a new pool — traditional or natural — Troy and his team say they believe in educating the client. “We’re going to make sure they’re educated. We’re going to walk them through it … and teach them how to take care of their pool.”
For more information on natural swimming pools, visit californianaturalpools.com, call (805) 640-1288,
or stop by the Ojai Pool Store at 510 W. El Roblar Dr.