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The Floating +Pool in the East River Is Almost a Real Thing

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Being able to swim in a floating oasis in the middle of a revoltingly polluted New York City waterway is closer than ever to becoming a reality for New Yorkers, as the team behind +Pool has positioned a Floating Lab on Pier 40 to test their water filtration system. And — guess what? — the filtration system is working just fine.

The original idea behind +Pool was dreamt up in 2010 by three friends: Dong Ping Wong of Family NY, and Archie Coates and Jeffrey Franklin, both from Playlab Inc. Their idea was to change the perception that New Yorkers held of their waterways from barriers between boroughs to, quite simply, accessible bodies of water that could actually be enjoyed. They adopted, as a slogan, the phrase "A pool for everyone" and launched an initial Kickstarter in 2011 that was funded in a matter of days. Their second Kickstarter campaign, launched in 2013, was also successful. In the spirit of keeping the project in the public realm, supporters can purchase tiles with their names that will make up the pool and check water conditions along the pier with +Pool's dashboard.

Standing on the banks of the Hudson, Greg Grzybowski, the on-site water engineer behind the lab, says that the main challenge of +Pool's current phase is dealing with the "magnitude of the pulses of raw sewage that end up in the water." (Yes, that means feces.) Once completed, pool's filtration system will take 500,000 gallons of river water a day and strip it of bacteria, but after three levels of filtration — including a fluidyne that uses gravity to filter water through differently positioned screens — the end result is a tub full of clear, swimmable water. Really.

The trial set-up is what Coates, one of the three co-founders, calls a "bare-bones operation." Grzybowski tests the water daily for bacteria counts, taking river samples, baking them in ovens to monitor bacterial growth, and placing them under a black light and testing them according to EPA standards. The current goal is to get the filtered water to measure zero colony forming units (CFU, also known as bacteria) per milliliter of water, but levels ranging anywhere from zero to 60 are acceptable, according to the EPA. Anything over 60 causes beaches and waterways to be shut down.

Results have already shown that, after rainfall, bacteria counts at the Pier 40 testing site have gone up to a whopping 25,000 due to the city's sewage system dumping into the waters. The team, however, says that it has accounted for these kinds of surges. What most surprises Grzybowski is how the river's ecosystem is able to remove most of the incoming sewage by itself within 24 to 48 hours.

"It would be possible to shut off the intake until that plume goes by," he said. That means that the pool would be able to remain open even on the days after storms, since it would retain water extracted during pre-storm levels, but would not take in new water during the contaminated hours.

Another surprise for the +Pool team is the sheer number of backers and groups that have wanted to get involved.

"It's attracted different types of industries: design, innovation, art," said Kanessa Tixe, a rep for the project. Fashion companies like Brooklyn Industries have reached out in hopes of having runway events at the pool. The PUR water filtering company has also offers its help, as have prominent design and architectural firms such as ARUP and IDEO.

There has even been support from overseas. The mayor of Sydney, Australia contacted the team inquiring about how to make a similar project work in his city. +Pool is also one of the projects being featured this September in London's Design Week in an exhibition regarding how to make urban waterways swimmable for an urban population.

The true measure of +Pool's astonishing early success might be the fact that it has gotten offers from private companies to buy out the three co-founders and charge a $20 admission. Wong, Coates, and Franklin have rejected those offers, feeling that they fail to honor the project's original mission: a pool for everyone.

"It'll be built, but then it'll be the most useless pool for everybody," said Coates, "We want it to catalyze a neighborhood as opposed to being an added amenity."

The next step for the team is to pick a location. Renderings show +Pool anchored in the East River by Dumbo, but that's not set in stone. They're working on finalizing the pool's final site somewhere in the East River by the end of this year.
—Angely Mercado
· +Pool coverage [Curbed]
· Outdoors Week 2014 [Curbed]