The big idea with the potential to change aquatics came to David Knighton, M.D., almost a decade ago on a U.S.-bound flight from Germany. During the trip he read a one-page article in Atlantic Monthly about World War I soldiers whose wounds were treated with a kind of sphagnum moss.

Dr. Knighton, a vascular surgeon and cell biologist, recalls being struck by the fact that the moss helped prevent infection by stopping bacteria growth. He hit on a connection to aquatics later, after noticing that many of the lakes of northern Minnesota, which contained the same kind of moss used to treat the soldiers, were cleaner and contained less algae that those farther south. After successfully improving the water chemistry of his own home spa by adding some of the moss, Knighton founded Creative Water Solutions, based in Plymouth, Minn., with his longtime business partner Vance Fiegel, a cellular biologist and microbiologist. Together, the two have pioneered advances in chronic wound care and collaborated on several ventures.

It’s taken approximately eight years of research and development to bring Creative Water Solutions into the marketplace. Knighton and Fiegel began testing their moss filtration products — PoolNaturally (for pools) and SpaNaturally (for spas) — at commercial aquatics facilities in the St. Paul-Minneapolis area last summer. Results so far have proven successful.

Based on the pilot studies, adding the moss can reduce chemical usage significantly, cut down on the amount of backwashing needed and mitigate the problem of biofilm, says Knighton, who left the operating room in 2008 to focus solely on R&D.

“My view is that nature has the answer. We just need to look for it,” Knighton says. “In the aquatics industry, I think the public is yearning for an experience that’s less chemically loaded. I just feel very privileged that I was at the right place at the right time and was able to see this and develop it.”

Knighton says it’s Creative Water Solutions’ scientific approach, asking questions and challenging existing dogmas, that has so far made the venture a success. With 21 patents and eight companies, he plans to take Creative Water Solutions nationwide by this summer.