Inside the Waterworks: Spa Secrets Revealed

Many long-time seasonal and year-round residents have questions about the pumps, the wells, and the filtration system in our pools. Why is the water a little warmer or cooler than it was last time? Why do the minerals smell stronger? Is there too much chlorine? What is the environmental impact? Where does the water go?

In 2018, we’ve answered those questions with interactive tours of the pools, pumps, and wells. “It’s like going behind Oz’s curtain,” says maintenance manager Bob Daniel. “It’s not always how the residents think things work -- often it’s totally the opposite.” For those who missed out on Daniel’s tours this season, we’ve asked him to summarize the tour’s highlights below.

Historic Heritage. Tim Manthei, the founder of the resorts, drilled the first well at Sky Valley West in 1969, in an alcove behind the clubhouse. From that one well flowed the hot water of the Sky Valley West pools. As he perfected the pumping and filtration of the water and developed the resort, he added another well, and eventually new wells near the East clubhouse in the early 1980s. The wells are connected underground, providing interplay between the east and west clubhouse pools and spas. Today, more than a dozen tubs and pools, in addition to the clubhouse showers and the Sky Valley lakes, use water from these wells.

Water from the Well. In total, Sky Valley has drilled eight wells, but only four are currently in use, with the others decommissioned but still unsealed. Sky Valley taps its wells between 400 and 730 feet below the surface. The different depths of the wells was an attempt to find even hotter water, which has been successful. “It’s all about temperature, not water volume,” says Daniel. “Over time, some of the wells have become cooler and we’re not getting the temperature we need from them, so we’ve had to stop using the wells that are not producing the right water temperature.”

Ever-Flowing Freshness. Because the water is constantly flowing from the wells, being pumped to the surface, and circulating in the pools, the process is very dynamic. “Our flow-through system works by bringing the water up from the wells to feed the spas first. The spas are the hottest. As the temperature decreases, that automatically opens our valve to let more water come up. The cooler water flows into the pools, and the temperature in the spa rises,” Daniel explains.

Water is chlorinated at the surface-level, before going into the hot tubs. Once it reaches the pool, the chlorine is diluted to about two parts per million. As it continues to cool, it cycles to the waterfalls outside the pool area, and into the surrounding lakes. It continues to cycle from there into the irrigation system to water the property. From there, it seeps back down into the aquifer, where it rejoins the water table.

Filtration Facts. The pumps use a sand-based filter, which looks like a big container with sand inside. As the contaminants collect, the pressure mounts on the filter. When it reaches its threshold, the filter backwashes, flushing the contaminants—silt, sand, and bits of earth or sodium—into the lake. “Since so much water flows through, that means we actually have to filter less,” adds Daniel.

Temps Change with the Times. A submersible pump at the bottom of the well pushes the water up to the surface. The pump controllers constantly read the water temperature to know when to add or redistribute water. The pump opens when it is +/- one degree of the desired temperature; it closes if the temperature goes above or below the desired range. Water cools as it moves, so when the jets are on in the hot tubs, when wind blows across the surface, or when people swim or move in the water, it all has a cooling effect. Daniel himself has learned the system, and appreciates its specificity: “So much goes into setting up the system and keeping it running.”

Revealing the Secrets. Does Daniel have any regrets about taking people behind the curtain? Not at all. “It satisfies everyone’s curiosity. We have nothing to hide, and we really care about the process and give people a good product on a daily basis,” he says. The care and time that Sky Valley Resorts puts into the pools is fun to share, and spreads a little more knowledge and education throughout the entire resort. “All of the sudden, these folks are a little bit in awe. They can see how there are a lot of variables, and it really changes their perspective.”

Mineral PoolsEmily Manthei