A plan for a floating, self-filtering pool in the East River may soon become a reality, New York officials said on Friday.
With a $16 million investment from the city and state, the floating pool, an initiative of the group Friends of + POOL, is set to open for testing this summer, with a goal of opening to the public next year, Gov. Kathy Hochul said at a news conference in Central Harlem.
The financing for the unique pool was one of several swimming-related projects that Ms. Hochul, who was joined by Mayor Eric Adams, announced on Friday as part of a broadeffort to help “every New Yorker learn how to swim and keep people safe in and around the water.”
The governor said her administration would invest millions of dollars in building new pools around New York, addressing a statewide lifeguard shortage and increasing the amount of swimming instruction available to state residents.
As summers get hotter and people turn to pools and waterways for escape, drownings in New York have reached record highs, Ms. Hochul said. In 2021, the last year for which data was available, 230 people drowned in the state. All of the deaths were preventable, the governor said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has cited drowning as the leading cause of death among children 1 to 4 years old.
“If you don’t know how to swim, what you think is a refuge, that break, can become a death trap in an instant,” Ms. Hochul said.
The initiative announced on Friday reflects the largest statewide investment in swimming since the New Deal and will expand swimming access for underserved communities, the governor said.
Shekar Krishnan, who leads the City Council’s parks and recreation committee, called the effort an “important piece,” but said it was not enough to stem the number of drownings in the city.
“When the mayor is cutting free swim lessons, cutting summer programs for children and hiring fewer lifeguards than ever, a floating pool in the East River is nice, but that can’t save a child from drowning at Rockaway Beach,” Mr. Krishnan, a member of the council’s Progressive Caucus, said.
New York City, like many municipalities, has struggled to keep pools and swim programs open in recent years amid a lifeguard shortage. The lack of lifeguards has meant reduced pool capacity, unannounced pool closings, long lines at public pools and the cancellation of free swim lessons.
Last summer, the city entered the swimming season facing its worst lifeguard shortage on record. To attract new lifeguards, officials increased pay and retention bonuses, eased the city’s notoriously difficult swim test and advertised for lifeguards at high schools, job fairs and bus shelters.
A spokeswoman for the city’s parks department said on Friday that it was too early to know whether there would be a lifeguard shortage this summer; qualifying exams began last month and will go through February.
The investment in new pools, swim programs and lifeguards by the state and city comes as Mr. Adams is slashing funding for municipal services, including cuts that would freeze Police Department hiring and close libraries on Sundays. The mayor blames the cuts on the financial strain created by the surge of migrants into the city, which he has estimated will cost nearly $11 billion over two years.
Critics have said the budget cuts will hurt working-class families by reducing the public’s access to key resources.
On Friday, Mr. Adams said that building new pools, including + POOL, was vital for communities that have historically been denied access to free public pools, like those where he grew up.
“I had a water hose, and hopefully the fire hydrant was turned on,” he said. “That was my pool.”
The goal is to make + POOL free and open to the public, said Kara Meyer, the managing director of Friends of + POOL, a nonprofit that also runs free swim classes for beginners and other swimming programs.
The project for the self-filtering pool has faced many obstacles because the idea at the heart of it is “so out of the box,” said Mark Levine, the Manhattan borough president. It has been in the planning stages for more than a decade.
But the infusion of money from the state and city, which will allow the project to proceedunder newly created safety regulations, creates the potential for similar pools elsewhere in the city in the future, Mr. Levine said.
“The vision is that you could have several — three or four, even — in New York City’s waterways,” he said.