Health departments across California are spreading the word about the state’s version of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act.

By the end of January, most counties had mailed letters to public swimming pool owners and operators informing them of the latest requirements for new and existing pools and spas under AB 1020.

But contrary to much of the confusion surrounding implementation of the federal VGB Act, it appears local governments are better prepared to address the state legislation that took effect in October 2009.

“Our department and inspection staff have been giving out preliminary information on the pending law to pool and spa operators for more than a year now,” said Keith Jones, deputy director of district environmental services for Riverside County, which houses upwards of 7,000 public pools and spas.

Like VGB, AB 1020 requires installation of anti-entrapment drain covers as well as secondary devices for single-main drain pools and spas. For new pools and spas, the law also mandates split main drains.

County notices also direct owners to a compliance form to be completed by licensed contractors within 30 days of the modifications and returned to the state by July 1. To cover administrative costs, a $6 surcharge for each pool or spa also is collected by the state.

Contrary to VGB, the state law gives express powers of enforcement to county health departments and their inspectors. For counties such as Sacramento, it’s a welcome development.

“Now we have some teeth added to the law,” said Colleen Maitoza, supervising environmental health specialist for Sacramento County’s environmental management department. “You had the sense some people were dragging their feet before the state had the authority to enforce it. Before, it was more about education. The law is part of the health and safety code now.”

In the next two months, Sacramento County inspectors will undergo in-house training on checking SVRS’s and secondary devices, Maitoza said. And beginning in May, inspectors will be writing up noncompliance as violations, she added.

Maitoza wasn’t certain, however, if facilities found in violation would face closure or be given time to make the required fixes and submit them for re-inspection: “That’s still up in the air,” she said.

As for service technicians, some do expect a bump in business as a result of the latest requirements. But they also agree it’s important to take the time to verify modifications that have been made in the past.

Besides, it should be less taxing than the rush to comply with the federal anti-entrapment mandate.

“We’ve already been down this road, and we have the experience,” said Javier Payan, owner of Payan Pool Service in El Cajon, Calif. “Plus, some of the things they’ve required in the past haven’t been enforced. So I think a lot of good will come from this. I welcome it.”