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August 30, 2014

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New rule, Health District backlog keep pools closed

Condo, HOA associations look to expedite pool, hot tub inspections

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Richard Brian

Mike Heiney, owner and operator of Westside pools, compares an old pool drain cover, left, with one of the new anti-entrapment pool drain covers designed to prevent deaths. The law requires that all pools and spas have drain covers installed and a second anti-entrapment system added when there is only a single main drain.

The Southern Nevada Health District is working out a system that it hopes will clear up months of confusion over a new federal law that closed hundreds of local public swimming pools and hot tubs in December.

When the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act went into effect swimming pools and hot tubs owned by homeowners associations, apartment complexes and condominiums in the Las Vegas Valley that didn't meet the law's requirements were forced to close down.

Named after the 7-year-old granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker, who died in 2002 when she was pinned to the bottom of a hot tub by a suction drain, the law requires all public pools and hot tubs to have entrapment-proof drains.

As spring approaches, pool managers say the reason pools are still closed is that the Health District's permit and inspection process -- which every public pool must go through after being modified -- is months behind. Almost 80 managers and residents of affected communities descended on the Board of Health's regular meeting Thursday morning to ask for a different procedure that will expedite the process.

"All the work is done, but I can't get (my pools) inspected," said Brenda Lovato, a regional property manager with General Services Corporation. "There are thousands of bodies of water in this valley and two inspectors. How long do you think it's going to take?"

Glenn Savage, environmental health director for the Health District, said the district has more than two inspectors, but acknowledged that it is behind and said there is a need for a new system to deal with pools that have a valid permit and are only having work done to comply with the Baker Act.

Savage said he and his staff are working on a new procedure that would allow communities to submit a permit application for the drain work, sign a document stating that they understand the Baker Act and will comply with it, then have the work done by a licensed pool contractor and reopen the pool immediately.

The Health District inspectors would still come for an inspection when they are able, he said, and if there is anything wrong with the pool, the owner would have to immediately close it and fix it. Pools having other work done would still have to go through the process as usual.

It's still just a suggestion, Savage said, but he plans to take it to community managers and pool contractors in March and is confident that they'll embrace it.

"I'm very confident (the procedure will work)," Savage said. "We just have to explain it."

Managers said they are upset that the Health District has provided little guidance regarding the new law and question why the Health District must inspect pools that have the new drains installed when the Health District doesn't have the authority to enforce the Baker Act.

Only the federal government's Consumer Product Safety Commission has the authority to enforce the act.

The issue, however, is a state law that requires the Health District to inspect and permit any public pool that has work done on it, including drain and pump replacement.

Savage said the Health District couldn't provide guidance because it was waiting for guidance from the federal government. Some questions about what exactly is required by the act have only recently been decided, while others have yet to be clarified, he said.

"We needed to have the definition of certain things," he said. "We've been waiting on the feds to come out with those documents … we waited as long as we could."

Managers, however, said the Health District knew that it would have to come up with some kind of new system, even if it didn't know the specifics, and expressed frustration that an alternative was so long in materializing.

"If the Southern Nevada Health District isn't approving the methodology (of the new drains) because technically, it isn't supposed to be doing so, then the permit process should be moving much faster," Property Manager Barbara Holland of H & L Realty said.

Savage said he was willing to accept such criticism.

"It's a fair statement," he said. "We could have done better."

Jeremy Twitchell can be reached at 990-8928 or [email protected].

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