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10-year logoBy Brian Van Bower

‘If you’ve ever designed or installed commercial swimming pools in the United States,’ wrote Brian Van Bower in his column for the August 2007 issue of WaterShapes, ‘it’s likely you’re well acquainted with just how strange certain health department standards (and the officials who enforce them) can be.’

‘I believe things have gone so far wrong,’ he added, ‘that it’s time for the industry to do something about it. Yes, it will require a concerted, long-term effort to get anything done, but some of these issues are so ridiculous that I can’t help thinking if we were to get some form of a fair hearing of our grievances, there’s a good chance reasonable minds would prevail.’ He continued:

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‘Before we can get anything done, it’s my . . . observation that we need to start offering determined resistance to the absurdity. . . . Indeed, most [watershapers] I know are oddly complacent about compliance and simply accept the fact that they have to roll with idiotic proclamations that make very little sense.’

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'This willingness to do whatever it takes to get a job done has led to development of commercial codes that are based on the concept that we must do everything in our collective power to protect people from themselves. In this country, that translates to a least-common-denominator phenomenon in which we apparently anticipate what the dimmest of all dim people might do and keep them from pursuing their inevitable tendency toward self-destruction.’

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‘Yes, there should be standards for water quality and, yes, there should be standards for line velocities in circulation systems – but no, there shouldn’t be a standard requiring X number of chlorine tablets in particular types of chemical feeders. That’s nit-picking and is simply ridiculous.’

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‘As a rule, . . . what I see being done in other countries is vastly more creative than what we’re able to execute here. Consider, for example, the amazing work at Jade Mountain in St. Lucia (covered in WaterShapes’ April 2007 issue). That property represents one of the most fantastic uses of water to be found anywhere in the world, and there’s absolutely no way that it could have been built in the Unites States without the unusual cooperation of approving agencies. For starters, the two-dozen pools at Jade Mountain all have colorful tile interiors: As we know, health departments here require all commercial pool interiors to be white or very light colors only.’

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‘Sometimes the excesses when it comes to enforcing the rules are truly breathtaking. Not long ago, I worked with a landscape architecture firm on the design of a pool for a lovely resort property in North Carolina. The project included a large lounge area inside the pool as well as a vanishing-edge detail. The landscape architect managed to get the design approved and moved forward with construction.’

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‘During construction, . . . the health department decided that the original approval was in error: Somehow, they’d become concerned that someone in the pool could climb over the vanishing edge’s dam wall, fall past the trough and tumble down the slope. The last-minute, logic-defying, design-destroying solution they demanded required installation of a walkway over the trough, thus making it possible for someone to walk around the entire perimeter of the pool. This walkway included a railing, so, while the vanishing edge is still there, the visual effect has been completely ruined.’

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‘For a project in California’s Napa Valley, we designed a complex in which separate men’s and women’s spas have massaging cascades in which hot water falls down along a wall onto people sitting in either spa as a form of relaxing hydrotherapy. The health department’s objection? They don’t want water falling from the cascades to originate in and be re-circulated from the spas themselves. Rest assured, the water is filtered and chemically treated before reintroduction to the bathers, but these officials see it as “unsanitary” for some reason. They have no problem with bathers sitting directly in the spas, mind you, but water falling on those same bathers from overhead cannot, for some reason, originate in these spas.’

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‘As it stands, those of us who have to navigate through these shoals of nonsense simply have to take each situation on a case-by-case basis and pick our fights as well as we can. The result, however, is higher costs and greater difficulty in designing world-class facilities, which means that those who will suffer most are property owners and their patrons.’

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‘In the meantime,’ Bower concluded, ‘I’m waiting for some brightly dim person to notice that oceans, lakes, rivers and streams are filled with water and pose hazards similar to those found with pools and spas. I can see it now: Railings, nets, fences, warning signs, the works – all to protect the dimmest of our citizens from the hazards of natural bodies of water.’

Has any progress been made since Brian wrote about these absurdities in 2007, or does the sort of silliness he described still prevail where you work? Please share your thoughts below – rants welcomed!


Brian Van Bower runs Aquatic Consultants, a design firm based in Miami, Fla., and is a co-founder of the Genesis 3 Design Group. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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