Forget about splish splash. The dominant sound at area swimming pools this summer may be “ka-ching.”
Pools across the region are spending thousands of dollars to comply with federal safety regulations, and leaders in Eudora believe the regulations may cause them to delay the opening of their city pool past Memorial Day.
At issue are new federal rules designed to make it less likely that drains become deadly suction devices that trap children and others to the bottom of a pool.
“Particularly girls with long hair can get their hair sucked into the drains, they can get their fingers trapped in the grates, and there have even been situations where the torso of a child has become entrapped by the suction of a drain,” said Richard Ziesenis, director of Environmental Health for the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department.
Lawrence’s Outdoor Aquatic Center is scheduled to open as scheduled on Memorial Day weekend. But the waters are murkier in Eudora.
There, city leaders thought their outdoor pool built in 2007 met the new federal guidelines. But last week, Ziesenis told the city that the pool would need some modifications.
Most cities in the area have been spending $2,000 to $5,000 per pool to install special drain gates or automatic shut-off valves that kick in when a drain blockage is detected.
But last week, Eudora council members were told by the pool’s engineering firm — BG Consultants — that they are recommending a $35,000 project to fix the drain system.
Tammy Hodges, Eudora parks and recreation director, said the Eudora pool project may be costlier because more may need to be done to ensure that the water slide and lazy river component of the pool meet the guidelines.
“It is a big mess right now,” Hodges said.
Eudora leaders and Ziesenis are expected to meet next week to discuss solutions in more detail.
Here’s a look at how the new regulations are playing out in other communities:
• In Lawrence, acting Parks and Recreation director Ernie Shaw said the Outdoor Aquatic Center will open on time. In fact, the pool was filled with water on Tuesday.
Lawrence ended up spending just under $10,000 for drain grates for the Outdoor Aquatic Center, the Indoor Aquatic Center and the wading pool in South Park, said Jimmy Gibbs, the city’s aquatics manager.
The Outdoor Aquatic Center is scheduled to open at 1 p.m. on May 23.
• In Bonner Springs, the city spent about $6,400 to buy eight anti-entrapment drain covers for its pools, which open May 23.
Skip Dobbs, Bonner Springs director of parks and recreation, said many cities have waited to do the work because details about the federal regulations have been unclear.
“There was so much misinformation floating around and speculation, we were just kind of waiting until everything got anchored,” Dobbs said.
• In Baldwin City, work is under way to bring the city pool into compliance. The pool is expected to open for Memorial Day weekend, City Administrator Jeff Dingman said. The city is spending about $3,000 for drain plates. Several have been installed, but the city is still waiting to receive parts for others.
• In Shawnee, repairs to that city’s two pools are scheduled to be done prior to the pool’s May 23 opening. Tonya Lecuru, deputy director of Shawnee Parks and Recreation, said $33,000 was spent to improve the drains at the Splash Cove at the Jim Allen Aquatic Center, and another $10,000 will be spent to fix drains at the Soetaert Aquatic Center.
• In De Soto, $3,600 worth of work has been completed that will allow the city pool to open on time, City Administrator Pat Guilfoyle said.
• Although the Tonganoxie pool was built just last year, about $2,800 in drain improvements were made to the pool recently, said Kathy Bard, assistant city administrator.
The new federal regulations — called the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act — was signed into law in December 2007. The regulations came to be after the granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker died in an incident in 2002 after the suction from a spa drain trapped her under the water.
From 1997 to 2007, the federal government reported nine deaths and 63 injuries related to suction entrapment in pools or spas.
The regulations cover public pools and spas, which means pools and hot tubs at hotels, health clubs and apartment complexes have to meet the regulations.
In Lawrence and Douglas County, the Health Department will begin inspecting 96 outdoor pools and spas later this month. The county’s 13 indoor pools and spas already have complied with the regulations, he said.
Ziesenis said the Health Department won’t shut any pool down for not complying with the regulations. Technically, the regulations are designed to be enforced by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. But Ziesenis said the Health Department will notify pools that they are out of compliance, provide information on how they can comply with the regulations, and will note in their inspection report that the pool is out of compliance. Outdoor public pools generally are inspected on a monthly basis during the summer. Indoor pools are inspected throughout the year.
Ziesenis said he believes most pool owners will fix the pools because they know they could face significant liability if an accident were to happen in a pool that was found to be out of compliance.
The regulations don’t apply to a homeowner’s private pool. But Ziesenis said he’s urging homeowners to have their pools checked for safety because the same suction problems can exist.