The pool industry is keeping a watchful eye on swim ponds.

These natural alternatives to traditional swimming pools have gained in popularity in recent years, yet questions remain regarding its use.

“We don’t make ponds necessarily for swimming,” said Fred Pape, specialty project manager at Aquascapes in St. Charles, Ill. But Aquascapes does build ponds large enough for swimming. “We do discuss the difference between a pond and pool, and tell them about concerns they may not be aware of,” he explained

While many ponds require a permit, they typically do not draw the scrutiny of code enforcers, which creates opportunities for pond professionals to design large, inviting bodies of water with little regulatory oversight. Because they’re competing for the same real estate (backyards), pool builders may have cause for concern.

“If they’re billed as ponds that are OK to swim in, then absolutely, they should be built to the same standards as a pool,” said Kyle Chaikin, division chief of Ultimate Pools in Long Island, N.Y.

The International Professional Pond Companies Association agrees. In 2008, IPPCA released an official statement defining any body of water designed for the “purpose of immersion” as a swimming pool and, as such, it should fall under all appropriate building and safety codes.

Critics charge that swim ponds pose health risks, such as bacterial infection and electric shock.

But proponents counter that these watering holes can be constructed with vinyl or concrete floors and external pumps, properly grounded. Built correctly, man-made ponds are safe, if not safer, than a natural body of water, according to Stan Festa, owner of in Ocala, Fla. “We’re duplicating Mother Nature and how she filters water. You can’t get much more natural than that,” he said.

Even so, swimmable ponds still are a long way from meeting ANSI/APSP standards, which determine, among other things, the slope of the entry. To that end, how many ponds are built with a floor canting less than 45 degrees, wondered Rick English, owner of San Diego-based English Pool Consulting. Considering the potential to slip on an algae-coated floor, that’s something pond builders should keep in mind. “I wouldn’t let anyone I like swim in those things,” English said.

Some in the industry also are quick to point out that there is a clear distinction between these backyard ponds and a properly designed natural swimming pool. BioNova is a European company with a branch in New Jersey that sells natural pools through a dealer network. The firm has aggressively entered the residential market. All of BioNova’s pools are filtered through a patented biological cleaning process and built to code, according to company officials. BioNova

President James Robyn takes issue with water garden contractors claiming ponds are swim-friendly.

“Well, sure you can [swim in them], but that’s just a problem waiting to happen,” he said.