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Utah County pools struggling with new drain law

By Sara Lenz and Erica Teichert

Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Jan. 14 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

PROVO — Everyone out of the pool (and spa).

Six Utah County pools or spas were closed last week because of a federal law requiring appropriate caps on pool and spa drains. The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act was adopted by the state last year, and Utah pools had through December to comply.

According to the act, appropriate drain caps are required "to prevent the entrapment of individuals either due to suction or hair entanglement." The act is named for former Secretary of State James Baker's granddaughter, who died in 2002 after being trapped underwater by a hot tub's drain suction.

While a couple of the closed facilities have figured out a way to comply, others are experiencing difficulties, and one will have to shut down its spa completely.

The Super 8 Motel in Provo has lost 10 percent of its business over the past couple of days due to the spa being closed, said Christy Bell, the hotel's general manager.

Bell said the Super 8 is known for having a 24-hour pool and spa, and even though the pool is still open, many tenants have asked for their money back after learning the spa was closed.

Bell was told about the noncompliance issue in April and said she contracted the work out three months ago. In December, she learned the labor had not been completed correctly. Now it may take up to a month and possibly a whole new spa to come into compliance, Bell said.

Liberty Square manager Tracy Myers said her facility put in a new pool drain over the summer, but she is waiting for engineers to draw up the plans for an extra spa drain. Once those are made, Myers said it should only take two to three days for the new drain to be put in and the spa to be up and running again.

Mt. Timpanogos Village Pool and Spa reopened its facility Tuesday afternoon, and officials with Winter Haven Spa, which was also closed last week, were not available for comment Tuesday.

For many pool and spa facility owners, time is not an issue; money is. Each pool or spa requires $500 to $25,000 in repairs to comply with the federal and state laws, said Lance Madigan, spokesman for Utah County Health Department. That price tag is hard to handle for many businesses, including Elevate Fitness in Orem.

Elevate Fitness operates two pools — one for rehabilitation and an infinity pool for athletes in training. Owner Richard Hart said there is no conceivable way to become trapped in his pool.

"It doesn't matter," Hart said. "If you don't comply with the standards, you don't get to use your pools."

Main Springs Day Spa in Orem will not comply with the new regulations and instead has shut down its spa.

"We're known for our massages and our body wraps," said manager Mauricio Choque. "The spa was an extra perk to warm up your body."

There are around 400 operating pools in Utah County. Nearly 50 pools have not complied with the current regulations, but most of those will not be open until the summer.

"To get their opening licenses, they'll have to comply with the law," Madigan said.

Salt Lake County hasn't closed any pools or spas thus far as a result of the new federal law. However, according to Teresa Gray, bureau manager for Water Quality and Hazardous Waste in Salt Lake County, 32 pools have voluntarily closed because they know they can't comply.

Gray said there are about 1,100 public pools in the county, and most are seasonal. As such, the bureau has been focusing this winter on the year-round pools.

Thus far, almost 400 have complied with the new standards, and another 300 are waiting for inspection.

All pools in Davis County comply with the federal mandate, according to Davis Heath Department Director Lewis Garrett.

Unlike most government entities, Davis County adopted the new requirements as part of the local health regulation about a year ago.

"None of our pools will need to be closed," Garrett said. "The new rule is a good one. There have been a number of tragedies without it."

Weber and Morgan counties don't have any pools that have been closed yet.

"We do have six year-round spas that are not in compliance," said Lori Buttars, spokeswoman for the Weber-Morgan Health Department. "We started sending out letters this week informing them that they will not receive this year's permit until they bring them into compliance with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act."

Buttars said the county won't know about the summer pool situation until this spring.

Contributing: Lynn Arave

e-mail: slenz@desnews.com, eteichert@desnews.com

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