“You’re going to see, we hope, a drop in drowning deaths, a direct drop in drowning deaths in the City of Houston,” Parker said.
The new measure, unanimously approved by the Houston City Council, comes just months after an 11 News I-Team investigation revealed sweeping problems with the city inspections process of public and semi-public pools.
In a series of reports, the I-Team revealed that city inspectors couldn’t do anything about pools with multiple safety violations, because the antiquated city code provided little enforcement authority.
As a result, pools without critical items such as life rings, body hooks, emergency phones and “no diving” signs, were given passing inspection grades.
Local regulations also did not cover substandard drain covers, included under the federal Virginia Graeme Baker Act. The act was named after the 7-year-old granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker III. She died in a hot tub accident.
“It was just totally inadequate,” said Kathy Barton, spokesperson for the Houston Department of Health and Human Services. “It didn’t address safety equipment, it didn’t address the Virginia Graeme Baker act, and so we needed more flexibility and more tools at our disposal to improve the health and safety of the swimming pools in the City of Houston.”
The new ordinance incorporates state and federal pool and spa safety standards and gives the Houston Department of Health the legal power to enforce them.
The I-Team also found that 1,301 of 3,875 – more than one-third—public or semi-public pools in Houston had not been inspected by the city in one year as required under city code.
The city defines public and semi-public as pools in apartment complexes, condos, townhomes, fitness centers, parks, hotels and motels.
The City has since reduced that backlog to around 40 pools by launching a new automated inspection system, Barton said.
Field inspectors are now entering inspection data into a computerized database instead of writing out reports by hand.
The new ordinance takes effect January 1.
One item left to be approved involves proposed fee increases for pool inspections. The City is considering raising the current $85 annual permit fee to $230. The Houston Apartment Association has called the proposed hike excessive. Council members will discuss the item, along with fee increases for other city services, at its next meeting in December.
by Jeremy Rogalski / Chief Investigative Reporter – khou.com