Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009 | midnight
A new federal law that went into effect on Dec. 19 has increased the safety standards for public swimming pools and spas nationwide, and pool operators throughout Las Vegas are taking steps to ensure they are in compliance.
The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act — named after the 7-year-old granddaughter of former secretary of state James Baker who died after drowning in a spa — was signed by President Bush in 2007.
The new law states that public swimming pools and spas must install new drain covers to prevent entrapments and drownings, especially among young children.
Depending on the size and type of pool, the water velocity at the point of the drain must be between 1.5 feet per second and 6 feet per second.
Anything over 6 feet per second is generally considered a drowning hazard, especially in spas where there is less space and more water circulation required, said Mike Heiney, owner of Westside Pool in Summerlin.
The total cost of installation, including parts and labor, can range from $1,000 to $5,000 for each body of water, Heiney said.
"It's an expensive process," he said. "Some of these apartment complexes that turned into condominiums might not have the budget for it."
At Allanza at the Lakes, an 896-unit apartment complex near the corner of Durango Drive and Sahara Avenue, the five swimming pools and three spas serving the community were locked up on Dec. 19 and are closed until further notice.
"There was some ambiguity regarding exactly what was needed to comply with the new law, but we should have all the new drain covers installed in about a month," said Bob Parris, maintenance coordinator at Allanza at the Lakes. "It's going to cost about $25,000 total."
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, or CPSC, communities and businesses with public pools could face fines of up to $15 million if they don't show that they are taking steps to comply with the law.
Seasonal pools and spas that are currently closed, however, do not need to comply with the law until they re-open in 2009.
All Clark County public pools are closed until May except for three indoor pools — the Cora Coleman Indoor Pool, the West Flamingo Indoor Pool and the Desert Breeze Aquatic Facility.
New drain covers have been installed at the Coleman and West Flamingo pools, but the Desert Breeze pool — which is 50 meters in length and holds approximately 500,000 gallons — is closed until Jan. 12, said Steve Corry, assistant director of Clark County Parks & Recreation.
"Thankfully it's a slow time of the year at Desert Breeze," Corry said. "We're timing the installation with other maintenance such as plaster work and new lighting."
The city of Las Vegas has placed orders for new drain covers at its public pools, but the necessary parts were not scheduled to arrive until Jan. 5 due to high demand, said city spokesman Jace Radke.
Until then, the city plans to keep its pools open, including the 50-meter Pavilion Center Pool near Palo Verde High School.
"The city's pools have a lower suction rate on their current drains than the suction rates at other pools," Radke said. "We always have lifeguards stationed at our pools and we've never had a drain entrapment incident at a municipal pool."
Although it doesn't have a mechanism for tracking injuries or deaths due to drain entrapment, the Clark County Coroner's Office said there hasn't been such an incident in Clark County over the past six years.
The city of Henderson's two indoor pools — one at the Henderson Multigenerational Center and the other at the Whitney Ranch Recreation Center — were closed from Dec. 14 to Dec. 21 to have new drain covers installed. The city's seven outdoor pools are closed until Memorial Day but will be modified by then, said Kim Becker, Henderson's communications and marketing supervisor.
"Each pool is different based on size and water flow, but we're estimating it will cost the city about $50,000," Becker said. "We had to purchase 55 new drain covers."
In Boulder City, the main indoor pool at the Boulder City Aquatic Complex was closed from Dec. 20 to Dec. 29 for upgrades. New drain covers will be installed at the city's two outdoor pools by Memorial Day, and Boulder City Aquatics Coordinator Sheri Oberto said the entire project will cost the city about $8,000.
"Thankfully there were no classes during the holidays, but we did have a fair number of swimmers and kids on their holiday break who couldn't use the main pool," Oberto said. "It was certainly an inconvenience for some people."
Jeff O’Brien can be reached at 990-8957 or [email protected].