The federal government has removed existing pools from its residential language for the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act.

Though the law, passed in 2007, is mostly known for its effects on commercial pools and spas, it addresses residential installations less directly. One section of the legislation set up a grant program by which states can receive funds if they enact pool and spa safety laws meeting certain criteria. When the VGB Act first passed, it noted that states would have to apply their safety laws to new and existing pools and spas to qualify for grant money.

Then, to attract more takers, the government made a couple of changes. First, the requirements were broadened so that cities, counties and municipalities could apply in addition to states. What was found, however, is that localities that currently have safety laws on the books only apply them to new installations, and have shown no interest in policing existing units.

“No politician wanted to touch that one,” said Carvin DiGiovanni, Association of Pool & Spa Professionals’ senior director, technical standards. “Nobody wanted to go back to the constituents and say, ‘Look, we’re going to get all this grant money ... but guess what? We’re now going to force you to go back and [add] these safety devices.’ That was the feedback that we got.”

But the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Congress want to see more localities pass safety statutes and codes. While the entrapment-prevention portion of the law has made the most headlines, the language also addresses drowning-prevention measures. “They want to encourage fencing of residential pools, so this kind of move actually would do that,” said Kathleen Reilly, a spokeswoman for CPSC.

To make it possible for more states and municipalities to apply for grants using their current laws and codes, Congress voted to remove the requirement that existing pools and spas be included. Now, state and local laws need only apply to vessels that are built or renovated extensively enough to warrant a permit after June 23, 2012. Congress also extended the grant program through 2012.

“It certainly is going to make it easier because there was no way they were going to go back and mandate that pools built [before] have to be updated,” said John Norwood, president of SPEC, the legislative advocate for the California industry. “I think it’s just a practical thing that they did [to] get this money spent. This will give them a shot at it.”

However, with the grant allotment being so small — $2 million when the law was passed and an extra $500,000 just approved — Norwood doesn’t see California applying. “I’d be surprised,” he said.