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Recreational Water

Recreational water is the water we fish, boat, play, swim or wade in.  There are two types of recreational waters, treated and untreated.

Treated recreational waters are those that undergo some type of water filtration and disinfection; such as in swimming pools, hot tubs, amusement or water parks, splash pads and interactive fountains. It is estimated that there are more and 300 million visits to treated aquatic venues annually.  

Swimming is an excellent way to stay in shape and play during all kinds of weather.  Tennessee has an array of indoor and outdoor aquatic venues. Public swimming facilities (including public hot tubs and water parks) are regulated by the Tennessee Department of Health, Division of Environmental Health and by the six contract health departments of Memphis/Shelby, Jackson/Madison, Nashville/Davidson, Chattanooga/Hamilton, Knoxville/Knox and Sullivan Counties.

Cleanliness, maintenance, and chemical balance within these treated recreational water venues are essential in preventing water related illnesses. Filtration and disinfection with chlorine or chlorinated compounds is effective in killing most pathogens. However, the appropriate contact time and dose must be administered commiserate with the contamination load of the water. Some parasites such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium are resistant to chlorine and require additional contact time and concentrations to be rendered inactive. Care must be exercised to ensure that over chlorination does not result in chemical burns.

CDC healthy swimming

We encourage swimmers to use pool test strips to check disinfection and pH levels before swimming. Staying informed and knowing the disinfection level of your favorite venue helps prevent waterborne illness from pathogens and chemical exposures. Free pool test strips may be available from Healthy Pools.Org or they can be purchased in most department stores where pool supplies are sold.

 Local environmental health specialists inspect public swimming pools at least monthly. Inspection scores are posted at the aquatic venue and are available at the local health department.  If you would like to have more information about your favorite Tennessee aquatic venue, please call your local health department .​

CDC pool chemical safety

Untreated recreational waters include springs, streams, ponds, lakes, rivers, or oceans. Tennessee is a geographically diverse state consisting of large Mississippian flood plains in the west and the Appalachian Mountains in the east. We are proud of our water resources and boast over 926 square miles of surface water and over 60,000 linear miles of streams hosting diverse fisheries and enticing people to come out and play.   These water bodies naturally contain bacteria, viruses and parasites from the environment.  This water may be further contaminated with nitrates and chemicals from land use practices in the surrounding watershed.  Before fishing, boating, swimming, or wading in streams and rivers it is a good idea to check for fish consumption or water contact advisories from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA)  or the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).

TDEC and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  maintain a water quality report for surface streams, which includes a list of impaired streams. An impaired stream or water body is one that is not meeting the water quality criteria for its designated use due to a pollutant or significant physical alteration to the water body. These streams are listed by watershed and may be found on the impaired streams list or on this interactive map.

Accidental ingestion of both types of recreational water can lead to illness from exposure to pathogen or chemical contaminants.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends six steps for healthy swimming  in public swimming areas.

Download the CDC healthy swimming app.
Environmental Health journal cover image

Investigation & Risk Factor Survey of Splash Pads:  

In 2014, we investigated an uncommon waterborne salmonellosis outbreak.  There was one risk factor in common to many of the cases -- having enjoyed water recreation at a splash pad.  The investigation lead to a state survey of water quality and patron behaviors at splash pads.  Read about our Waterborne Outbreak of Salmonellosis Investigation & Risk Factor Survey of Splash Pads download PDF file shared by the Journal of Environmental Health from their June 2017 issue.