The D.C. Department of Recreation dumps nearly 14 million gallons of water each summer from its 15 "Walk-to-learn-to-Swim" pools at a cost of more than $15,000 in water and sewer charges.
James Tompkins, director of the division of aquatics for the Recreation Department, said the Walk-to pools are emptied each night and filled in the morning -- a process that takes about four hours -- as a safety measure.
Because children have entered the pools after hours, Tompkins said, the pools are emptied to avoid the possibility of accidents.
Tompkins said the Recreation Department -- which has emptied the pools since the late 1960s -- has considered several other options, including security guards, covers over the six-foot fences that surround the facilities and covers over the pools. He said all these alternatives were considered too expensive.
"I have suggested that every time there is a water shortage that we just not fill the Walk-to pools," added Tompkins. He said during the area water crisis in 1977 the pools were not filled.
The small Walk-to pools, which hold 14,000 to 35,000 gallons of water and are designed for swimmers ages 3-to-12, are part of the District's summer swim program.
". . . and I still believe they are excellent locations to teach the very young to swim," Tompkins said.
The 15 inground pools vary in size, but most are approximately 20 by 40 feet and range in depth from 18 inches to 3 1/2 feet. They have their own filtration systems.
In addition to the Walk-to pools, there are more than 20 larger outdoor pools, which are not emptied, aquatic officials said, because security guards are on duty when the pools close.
Tompkins said the small pools are filled with cold water from hoses which leaves them "pretty cool" when they are first filled. He said sunlight in the mid-afternoon usually makes the water a little more comfortable.
The daily dumping of water has been a source of controversy for both pool operators and inspectors for the Environmental Services Department.
"It is incredible, but they are dumping 35,000 gallons of water [from some pools] down the drain each night," said William Ruby, who is in charge of swimming pool inspections for the air and water quality division of the Department of Environmental Services.
Greg Reeping, 19, a pool manager at North Michigan Park pool, said: "We empty it every day, which is stupid, but that is what they pay me for. I don't know why we do it -- why don't you find out for me?"
"They waste 40,000 gallons a day at my pool," said another pool manager who asked not to be identified. "We have made suggestions to alleviate the problem [guards and pool covers], but they haven't done anything about it."
A spokesman at the Blue Plains Sewage Treatment Center said dumping the water has had no effect on the District's sewage caa pacity.
Another pool manager, Gayle Route, 22, who manages J.O. Wilson pool at 7th and K streets NE, said: "We start pulling the plug in the late afternoon. We do it because we just can't keep the kids from getting in at night."
A reporter's check of several local security guard agencies found that the cost for guarding the District's 15 swimming pools for just five days would be nearly $50,000.
The cost of buying vinyl pool covers would be much less, according to several pool cover manufacturers and distributers. Vinyl pool covers, however, could be damaged by vandals.
One pool cover that might be able to withstand vandalism is made of corrugated fiber glass and costs nearly $5,000. The cost of the fiber glass covers for all 15 Walk-to pools would be about $70,000.
The Walk-to-Learn-to-Swim pools are all scheduled to be in operation this week from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday at these locations:
Barry Farms, 1223 Sumner Rd. SE.
Benning-Stoddert, Stoddert Place and East Capitol Street SE.
Deanwood, 49th and Nash streets NE.
Garrison, 12th and R streets NW.
Happy Hollow, 18th Street and Kalorama Road NW.
Lincoln-Capper, 5th and L Streets SE.
Lincoln-Powell, 16th and L streets NW.
North Michigan Park, 13th and Emerson streets NE.
Parkside, 711 Anacostia Ave. NE.
Parkview, Warder and Nicholson streets NE.
Riggs-LaSalle, Riggs Road and Nicholson Street NE.
Trinidad, Childress and Holbrook streets NE.
Watkins, 12th and K streets NE.
J.O. Wilson, 7th and K streets NE.
Woodson Jr., 42nd and Foote streets NE. CAPTION: Picture, Paul Desvignes, 11, in the Garrison Pool at 12th and R. Streets NW one afternoon last week while the pool was being drained of water. By Tom Allen -- The Washington Post