New federal law to affect local pools and spas

Q: At our HOA (homeowners association) meeting Jan. 15, it was casually mentioned That the pool gates were chained shut, because the pool and hot tub drains needed to be replaced. In accordance with a bill regarding the hazard of swimmers getting their hair caught in the drains. Could you please give me the number of the bill regarding this issue ….

A: Be aware this is simply not a case where a person’s hair got caught in the drains. Adults and children have been entrapped by the drain while submerged underwater and were not able to be pulled out, and subsequently died horrible drowning deaths.

Here is a little background. On Dec. 19, 2007, President George W. Bush signed into law the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, named after the daughter of Nancy Baker and the granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker. The child died in a tragic incident in June 2002, after the suction from a spa drain entrapped her underwater.

This is a federal law; not a state law.

Although, The Southern Nevada Health District (southernnevadahealthdistrict.org) is expected to address the Act at a Feb 26 public hearing, it will not enforce it. The meeting will be held at 8 a.m. at the Ravenholt Public Health Center, 625 Shadow Lane.

Consumer Product Safety Commission (cpsc.gov) is charged with enforcing the act and can close pools and spas that are not in compliance. The new law that went into effect Dec. 18, 2008.

Anyone interested in learning more about this new law can visit the CPSC’s and the SNHD’s Web sites.

There is some confusion about the laws’ standards. Needless to say, confusion always brings controversy, and in return, controversy always leads to blame. In this case everyone seems to be pointing blame at the SNHD, which did not create this law, nor has it been instructed to police or enforce it. The CPSC has asked state, local enforcing agencies and all of us for the help in enforcing the law, but it has to be passed on at the state level before it can ever reach any local enforcing agency.

The SNHD does require a minor or major remodel fee to comply with the law, which is part of its regular procedure regarding any alteration to public swimming pool equipment.

Here is where the SNHD is having problems with approving the applications to comply with the VGB Act.

The CPSC has set standards on what commercial (public) pools and spas need to do to reach compliance, but the agency has not verified what needs to be modified to comply with sump and spacing issues.

You can listen to a Webinar at athleticbusiness.com/webinars. In one sentence you will hear that we are all negligent for not complying with the law, and in another sentence you will hear that the standards for sumps and spacing will be presented to us in the near future. If the standards are not complete yet then how do you comply?

Hopefully, that makes everyone understand why the SNHD is not ready to put their name on the line on what everyone needs to do to gain compliance at a huge financial burden.

After reading this, I am assuming that everyone is now pointing a finger at the CPSC for possibly closing their pools and spas this summer. I have to say the agency has a huge responsibility and burden to make that what happened to poor little Virginia never happens to anyone else.

So how do we get our pools and spas in compliance when they re-open this summer?

Joe Blockovich, president of Community Pools and Spas of Nevada recommends the following:

Add a VS (variable speed) +SVRS (suction vacuum release system) to all points of suction, such as main drains, water features, skimmers and skimmer equalizer lines along with the new federally approved anti-entrapment drain covers that will match the gallons per minute and velocity, (water traveled through the drain cover) which coincides with the SVRS pump.

Not only will the VS+SVRS pump save between $700 to $1,000 per year, per pump in electricity, but the Nevada Power Co. is going to issue a rebate on each pump as well.

Everyone needs to realize that the VGB Act is new to all of us. Nobody is an expert or a seasoned veteran at this point. The commercial pool service business, as well as the community pool owners will learn more and more about what the law entails as more information is received and as work is actually implemented.

What does this mean to you as a homeowner, board member or community manager?

First, be very careful. Do not sign contracts and spend money until you understand the requirements.

Some of the pool companies are marking up the actual cost of the permit required by SNHD. The permit cost is $348 for each body of water. One spa and one pool would cost $696. Some pool companies have proposed much more costly solutions than may be necessary.

An example is your pool company wants to manifold your main drains, which in essence means that they will be breaking into the pool structure and creating two new drains. Please note that if your pool company was to perform this modification, it will be classified as a major remodel to your pool and spa and the SNHD permits would be at a minimum of $910 per body of water.

There is another alternative that is less costly and that has been approved by CPSC. Instead of splitting the drains for the pool, install a suction vacuum/release system. One of these systems is called a Pentair Intelliflow VS + SVRS pump.

The total cost for equipment and labor for a Pentair Intelliflow VS+SVRS pumps could cost $ 1,700, or more depending upon how much more your pool company wants to charge for labor.

The cost for drain covers (anti-entrapment covers) range from $30 to $ 300 each, depending upon the size of the drain.

Don’t forget you will have to drain the pool and spa and refill them with water. So if you had any other planned work for the pool and spa — like changing lights or acid washing — combine all of the work together so that you do not waste water.

Do not expect your pools and spas to be opened as soon as they were in the past.

SNHD personnel will have to approve your permit and proposal and then will have to inspect your pools and spas.

There could be a delay in obtaining your equipment. Just think, all pools and spas in the United States will need equipment at the same time.

Money will be needed from the association’s funds. Technically, you only can use reserve funds for major components of the common elements that are part of the reserve study. Obviously, this expenditure is not part of the current reserve study and you may have to pay for this expense out of your operating funds. You should contact your association’s legal counsel for advice.

Barbara Holland, certified property manager, broker and supervisory certified association manager, is president and owner of H&L Realty and Management Co. Questions may be sent to Association Q.&A., P.O. Box 7440, Las Vegas, NV 89125. Her fax number is 385-3759, or she can be reached by e-mail at support@hlrealty.com.

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