Pelican Bay Aquatic Center saw more than 50,000 swimmers use its pool over the past summer, but leaks and structural issues mean the facility has been losing an estimated 20,000 gallons of water each day over the last two summers.
Owned by the city of Edmond and operated by Sports Facilities Companies, the award-winning aquatic center is estimated to have lost more than 1.5 million gallons of chemically treated water over each of the past two summers.
During an Edmond City Council workshop Sept. 25, Marina Wells, Pelican Bay’s general manager, apprised council members of the issue.
“Last year, it was around 20,000 gallons a day, and I didn’t even bother calculating specifically this time, because I can just tell from being at the event this year that we’re losing more than that,” Wells said.
Wells said some water loss can be attributed to evaporation and swimmers getting out of the pool, but she believes cracks in the pipes, gutters and pool shell are causing the mass leakage.
“It’s one of those where it’s going to get worse if nothing is corrected,” Wells told the Edmond City Council.
At its July meeting, the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board recommended replacing the pool basin, decks and gutters, rather than renovating the existing structure. The city opened a request for qualifications for aquatic services at the facility Sept. 8. The submission period closed Oct. 3.
However, owing to the estimated time of design and construction, city staff say they hope the pool can stay open through the summer of 2024 before it’s replaced, a decision that would lead to further water waste and city expense.
“We’re not going to get the pool replaced before Memorial Day of 2024. There’s no way we can design it and do all the construction,” said Brad Raney, the city’s parks director. “If we wanted to pursue what the park board is recommending, I think we would look to start designing, and if we were going to do construction, have it be right after the season and try to make it through another season.”
A structural evaluation of the facility from Water Technology, Inc. in April recognized that temporary fixes had been implemented at Pelican Bay since it was built in 2002. But the evaluation stated that “there might be a consensus among the facility owners/operators at this time to address the ongoing issues more comprehensively.”
Prior to the 2023 summer, the city paid $396,541 to renovate the pump room and repair pool cracks and tiles at the aquatic center, which was open seven days a week from May 28 through Aug. 5 this year. From Aug. 6 to Sept. 5, it was only open on weekends from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
According to the evaluation, the leaked water is suspected to be “making its way below and around the structure,” which could build pressure under the pool shell and cause eventual failures. However, the report stated that the main cause of the leaks remains unknown.
“These failures lead to more leaking which over time can wash out backfill and subgrade causing settlement. It’s a cycle that will continue until the leaks are repaired,” the report states. “It is unclear what the primary source of leakage was that began the cycle. Common sources other than cracked pool shells are pipe leaks and pool joint failures. It is possible to fix the sources, but until all sources are identified, there is still potential for the cycle to continue.”
Ward 3 Councilwoman Christin Mugg agreed with the parks board’s assessment to replace the pool at Pelican Bay, even though Raney said that will likely cost the city more than $5 million.
“It seems like the best investment to do replacement rather than renovate, because we’re just sort of kicking the can down the road,” Mugg said at the September workshop. “I think if we do the renovate option, I think it looks like we may spend more money overall.”
While city staff could not provide NonDoc with a full financial overview related to the water loss, Pelican Bay’s monthly water bills — which are paid by the city — have increased since 2021 when the average water bill over the four-month season was $11,900. By comparison, the aquatic center’s average water bill was $15,267 over its four-month season in 2023 and $15,674 over the 2022 summer.
“We compared the last two summers last year and we saw how it increased about 20 percent — the amount of water we were losing from 2021 to 2022,” Wells said at the September workshop.
At 20,000 gallons per day, the Pelican Bay Aquatic Center leaks about 600,000 gallons of water each month the pool is open, or roughly 80 times as much water as the average Edmond household uses monthly.
At the end of the Sept. 25 workshop, Edmond city manager Scot Rigby said the city needs to walk its talk when it comes to water conservation.
“We talk about water conservation, everybody do their part. It would be tough to have that discussion and say, ‘Meanwhile at Pelican Bay, we’ve got great landscaping whether we water it directly or not,'” Rigby said. “We may be able to, I’ll call it, keep going for another year or two, but sooner or later we’ve got to really address — not just from a financial aspect of stopping leaks — but also (deliver) a message that we take conservation serious as well.”
Edmond’s water rates among most expensive in OKC metro
The September workshop was held just two weeks after the Edmond City Council voted 4-1 to increase the city’s water and wastewater rates over the next three years. According to a city press release, those rate changes will help cover more than $350 million in water system improvements, including the ongoing water plant expansion.
For the majority of residential customers that have a 5/8-inch meter, the city currently charges $16.05 for its base water rate, which includes the first 1,000 gallons. The city then charges $7.95 per 1,000 gallons up to 10,000 gallons — the most expensive rate in the Oklahoma City metro area. Those rates will increase each November through 2026.
Ward 1 Councilman Tom Robins — the lone council member who voted against the water and wastewater increases — said he wants to see all options before addressing the leaks at Pelican Bay.
“I want us to be as good of stewards as possible while providing our services,” Robins said. “There’s a huge part of our community that enjoys and utilizes that pool.”
Ward 4 Councilwoman Stacie Peterson said Pelican Bay is an important amenity to the community, which she believes should stay open for the 2024 summer season.
“Hopefully we can do something over this winter to at least — this sounds so terrible — but to patch it up to hopefully hold it over for another season, because that is a lot of water,” Peterson said.
Peterson said she is concerned about the damage the water could be doing underneath Pelican Bay Aquatic Center.
“I’m not just talking about money, even though that is a No. 1 concern is the money basically going into the dirt,” Peterson said. “But what’s happening to the dirt below it? Where’s that water going? What is it doing?”
Mugg agreed with Peterson.
“If the things that are causing leaks are not replaced — I don’t know all of the pool terminology very well — before next season, then we would definitely do shorter-term things to at least alleviate that (water) loss,” Mugg said.
Ward 2 Councilman Barry Moore called the leaks a “high concern” and hopes a short-term fix can be implemented to alleviate some water loss.
“My thought would be to work on some repairs this fall and spring and continue to have a world-class aquatic center and quality-of-life item for the citizens come next summer,” Moore said.
Mayor Darrell Davis said he wants to get further direction from city staff before making a decision on short-term repairs or a full replacement.
“Please understand that Pelican Bay is one of our city treasures, and so we need to figure out a way to make sure that we keep it open, safe and viable for the citizens of Edmond and the surrounding community,” Davis said.
Wells, who has managed Pelican Bay for three summers, said Sept. 29 that she first noticed leaking during the 2022 summer when the pool’s autofill mechanic was not working.
Raney called the broken autofill mechanism “a blessing in disguise.”
“If the autofill was running right, you would have never known,” Raney said.
Wells said that, despite the leaks, Pelican Bay still maintains a healthy environment for those who want to enjoy their summers at the pool.
“The water is healthy, the water is clear, our staffing is on point — it’s not a hazard to the public,” Wells said. “We just want to make sure that in 10 years we’re still going to be here and in good state.”