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Citrus Heights neighborhood pool remains closed amid dispute with county

A “pool closed” sign can be seen outside a pool operated by the Sunrise Homeowners Association at 8012 Stone Canyon Circle. // M. Hazlip

By Mike Hazlip—
Despite triple-digit temperatures, residents in a large homeowners association in Citrus Heights have been barred from using the association’s pool to cool off, after the county ordered the pool closed last month.

The pool at 8012 Stone Canyon Circle serves just over 200 homes near Woodmore Oaks Drive and Fair Oaks Boulevard. Association president, David Jannke, said a county inspector ordered the facility closed because the drain cover they replaced in October 2022, does not meet current requirements even though he says it is “identical” to the old cover.

Commercial pool drain covers are regulated by federal legislation known as the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Act (VGBA) passed in 2008. Named after a seven-year-old girl who died as a result of suction entrapment, the legislation aims to prevent similar deaths by ensuring drain covers and the associated plumbing are safe for the general public.

Pool drain covers must be replaced every five years, Jannke said, and the association has used the same model since 2008. Now, as a result of new federal testing procedures that are more stringent, the association’s new cover is no longer in compliance. The new procedures effectively lower the flow rate threshold from 313 gallons per minute down to 120, according to Jannke. Because the new drain cover was installed after those regulations took effect, the association’s pool is out of compliance.

“It turns out that having expired covers is not as big a violation as having a new cover,” Jannke told The Sentinel in a July 14 interview. “And even if it is the same cover, we replaced the old covers with identical covers down to the model number. But it is a greater violation to have a new cover which is not certified or not passing the new rules.”

Those new guidelines were published 12 days after the association had their cover installed, according to Jannke. Bringing the pool into compliance involves draining the pool and excavating part of the bottom to accommodate additional plumbing fixtures. The project could cost the association between $8,900 to possibly more than $150,000, he said.

“When you’re doing an entire change to the cover to make it follow the new standards published by the manufacturer, they’ve specified that they have a deeper cutout underneath the cover,” Jannke said. “You need to drain the pool, jack hammer the bottom, basically trenching the bottom, put new pipe in to get that depth, reconnect that to your plumbing.”

A Sentinel review of pool inspection results publicly available from Sacramento County’s Environmental Management Department shows several locations throughout Citrus Heights are listed as having violations involving “VGB Suction Covers.” Some locations were listed as closed while others remained open, according to the county.

In a statement emailed to The Sentinel on Wednesday, Sacramento County’s Environmental Management Department Public Information Officer Elizabeth Zelidon said the new cover was installed without approval and will need to be replaced to meet the standard.

“The pool was closed on June 9, 2023, for unapproved suction outlet covers,” Zelidon said. “Unapproved suction covers are an entrapment hazard that can cause serious injury or death to swimmers. EMD has been in contact with the management company and is working closely with them and their pool contractor to resolve the issue. Currently, EMD is waiting for additional documentation from the management company and pool contractor for approval.”

In a follow up email to The Sentinel, Zelidon added the drain system is part of the report that the department has reviewed and approved.

“The current suction cover does not meet the State Health and Safety Code Requirements, it was installed without approval and needed to be replaced to meet standard,” Zelidon said.

Simply replacing the cover is not an option for the association, Jannke said.

“There are no covers that can connect to our plumbing and provide the right flow,” Jannke said in a document circulated to association members and obtained by The Sentinel.

The new rules appear arbitrary to Jannke who said the county is enforcing the standards while ignoring the situation. He claims the pool’s drain pipes are not large enough to create a danger to swimmers with the pool’s skimmers providing additional filtration. The association has asked the county to allow the pool to operate through the summer, but have not been successful he said.

“It is justified by saying it is a safety thing,” he said. “But the key is that it doesn’t make any sense in that the old covers were fine for years and years and years. And in fact, if we had installed them maybe six months earlier, because they would be older covers, they would be fine.”

A June 10, 2022, text message exchange between an association member and an unidentified county inspector shows questions over a scheduled inspection.

“I still am waiting on my pool repair guy to give us a date for drain cover replacement. Will this be a problem or should we schedule after he completes the work?” association member Nina Cherry asked. “I had no idea getting pool repair people was going to be as difficult as it has been this year.”

The inspector replied saying the county would need to approve changes.

“Depends on what he does,” the inspector said. “Like to like drain cover replacement is to be submitted within 30 days. If different cover then pool shouldn’t be open to the public until the change is approved by plan review dept.”

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has a grant program aimed at providing funds for education and enforcement of VGBA laws. In a Feb. 16, 2023 press release, the department said $3.5 million is available to state, local, and tribal governments to prevent drownings.

Local governments can apply for up to $400,000 in grant money to improve pool safety in their jurisdictions.

In a statement emailed to The Sentinel, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Communications Specialist Nychelle Fleming said the funds are aimed at enforcement and education efforts. Sacramento County has not received any funds, Fleming said, and applicants must be a government entity. None if the funds are for repair work, she said.

“Grant funds cannot be used to renovate, repair or retrofit pool or spa equipment,” Fleming said. “Funds may be used to educate the public on entrapments, barriers (to entry) and drowning prevention. Funds may also be used to enforce those standards and identify non-compliant pools. Generally, this is accomplished through providing training and salary support for inspectors.”

Flemming said although drain covers are a small part, they can pose a serious risk.

“Anti-entrapment drain covers are very important,” Flemming said. “The suction on a drain that doesn’t have a proper cover can be so powerful that even several adults may not be able to pull a child off (hazards can include disembowelments, hair entrapment, body entrapment). Make sure that any pool or spa your family is using has proper anti-entrapment drain covers. If you’re not sure, ask your pool service provider.”

Jannke said he wants to keep swimmers safe and has exhausted efforts to find another solution, but is being forced to keep the pool closed during summer’s hottest months.

“There are folks in our community who decide they would really like to go to the water. They’d like to swim in the pool,” said Jannke. “I really hope they go to one of the other Citrus Heights pools… (but) I am afraid that what they will be doing is going down to the river, and the river is very dangerous. The sheriff keeps telling us it’s cold, it’s fast, it’s dangerous. Don’t go down there. Don’t put your kids in danger. But where are you going to go?”

The association’s pool problems are just the beginning as more apartment, condominium and neighborhood pools come due to replace their drain covers, Jannke fears.

“From what I can tell, there are a bunch of other community pools that are going to have this problem. Maybe they know, maybe they don’t,” he said.

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