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New York Startup Wants to Clean Up the Hudson River One Pool at a Time

Taking a dip in the Hudson River typically is not something New Yorkers would advise — centuries of city sewage discharges have left the river toxic and harmful to human health. Although public policies aimed at cleaning up the Hudson have improved conditions over the past several decades, leftovers from past pollution remain, and new problems are becoming evident.

The Hudson is “generally” swimmable, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, but official swimming beaches are scarce. Many cities near the river still do not disinfect their discharges, increasing the risk of disease. In New York City, for example, overburdened water treatment plants are often overwhelmed with rainwater during major storms, which causes overflows of untreated or poorly treated waste to enter the Hudson.

To make the river truly swimmable would require cleaning the Hudson wholesale, but what if you could do it piecemeal instead? That is the aim of Plus Pool (+ POOL), which is developing a floating, water-filtering pool for New York City.

Co-founded by designers Dong-Ping Wong and Oana Stanescu of Family New York, and designers Archie Lee Coates IV and Jeffrey Franklin of PlayLab, + POOL is designed to filter the river that it floats in through the walls of the pool, making it possible to swim in clean river water. + POOL says the layered filtration system incrementally removes bacteria and contaminants to ensure nothing but clean, swimmable water that meets both city and state standards. There are no chemicals or additives — only natural river water.

“Like a giant strainer dropped into the rivers, + POOL will filter bacteria and contaminants through the concentric layers of filtration materials that make up the walls of the pool itself — leaving only clean, safe and swimmable river water,” + POOL explains on its website.

But this will be more than just a recreational structure, + POOL says. The Olympic-size pool will filter over 500,000 gallons of river water daily, making a measurable contribution towards cleaning the city's waterways.

As for what to do with the filtered waste, + POOL says it is looking at several options. This includes everything from catchment cartridges that can be removed and taken to waste treatment to employing floating wetlands and oyster reefs to aid in waste removal.

Although + POOL has not yet built a prototype, it has been busy working to get the the concept off the ground and into the water. + POOL has worked with engineers to study the structural, mechanical and filtration systems and ecological consultants to maximize the + POOL's benefit to the environment. It spent six weeks on a pier in the Hudson River testing different filtration materials and learning about enterococci and fecal coliform from professors at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

+ POOL says it also worked with innovation designers at IDEO and partnered with both Storefront for Art & Architecture and Architizer to ensure that the project is “designed and implemented in the best possible way.”

Notably, + POOL has gained the support of city and state agencies, open-water swimmers, waterfront advocacy organizations and over 4,300 supporters who pledged money through two successful Kickstarter fundraising campaigns.

To further raise funds for the project, + POOL is selling “tiles” that anyone can purchase. The company says the pool is broken into small sections, “so everybody can claim a piece of the pool for themselves.” Nearly $360,000 has been raised so far.

Moving into 2015, + POOL is continuing to build up its momentum towards a prototype. “We are now focusing on the research and development of the filtration system, and finding the pool a home,” a company representative told Sustainable Brands in an email.

With water scarcity becoming an increasingly pressing issue in the United States and beyond, innovations such as + POOL’s — and another ingenious river-cleaning solution that we love from the Philippines, the Hana Water Billboard — are more necessary than ever to secure a strong, sustainable supply of clean water. In fact, businesses and governments around the world are now recognizing the importance of clean water to a healthy economy. And in drought-ridden areas such as California, for example, water scarcity is forcing businesses to innovate to enable water savings both at the commercial and residential level.

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