The largest county in the nation has issued strict — some would say draconian — policies to comply with the federal Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health released an advisory in November stating that after Jan. 1, 2009, any single main drain pool that is drained or renovated must be either outfitted with an unblockable drain cover or hydraulically balanced split main drains.

“Guys are shocked and angered that the county is making [its] own rules,” said Adam Morley, co-owner of Paradise Pool and Spa Service in Torrance, Calif. “The guys who have talked to property owners about the federal law now have to go back and tell them [something different].”

Moreover, to fully ensure adherence to the VGB Act and the ANSI/ASME A112.19.8-2007 standard, the county is requiring that any pools replacing drain covers be drained and inspected. This way, inspectors can see if the drains have been properly installed and that any field fabricated sumps have been built correctly.

“The advisory is just meant to help people understand what direction we’re going … to comply with the federal act,” said Bernard Franklin, who heads pool inspections for L.A. County. “We’ll get it done, but the real problem is going to be out in the field to verify [compliance].”

Though the federal law allows pools with single main drains with a safety vacuum release system, the public health department doesn’t have the resources to inspect those kinds of systems among the 16,000 pools and spas in its jurisdiction, according to Franklin.

“We can’t make sure SVRS systems have been installed … and calibrated properly,” he said. “[Split main drains] are the only thing we can verify.”

In this light, installing an unblockable drain will be a much more financially feasible option for many pools.

Mandatory pool draining, however, comes with its own set of costs. For one, the policy may endanger the condition of a pool’s plaster finish.

“If it takes [the inspector] one or two weeks to get out there … you have a bunch of pools sitting there subject to the weather,” said Terry Snow, who serves on the Government Relations Committee of the Independent Pool & Spa Service Association.

Furthermore, the state is currently in a drought.

The county is considering an alternate protocol for divers, but the current draining requirement means service technicians will not be able to replace drain covers or dig out new sumps underwater.

SPEC, the government relations advocate for the California pool and spa industry, has noted technical corrections it will suggest for the advisory. Otherwise, it will not recommend major changes, according to Don Burns, president/CEO of SPEC.

Despite the advisory, it remains to be seen whether L.A. County actually has the power to enforce the VGB Act before the state has adopted it. The California State Department of Health Services maintains that the act must be adopted into state legislation before local government can enforce anything. However, state officials declined to comment on the advisory.