A little over three years ago, Connecticut was preparing to adopt new energy regulations.
The rules under consideration were closely modeled after
California’s Title 20, and set standards and consumption
requirements for a variety of products, including pool and spa
But in California, there were problems with the testing
methodology, and industry members had effectively petitioned
Sacramento for more realistic benchmarks. As a result, Title 20 was
Connecticut’s proposal, meantime, was based on the original,
and now contested, language.
Industry leaders from the Northeast, recognizing the need for
assistance in dealing with code officials, quickly summoned the
national Association of Pool and Spa Professionals and the
International Hot Tub Association.
Working together, the groups developed a game plan for addressing
the state office in charge of the energy code.
The result was a victory of sorts, as Connecticut incorporated the
initial Title 20 language, but made an allowance for products that
complied with California’s amended provisions, once they
“So they did make accommodations,” says Paulette
Pitrak, deputy executive director of the Northeast Spa & Pool
Association in Hamilton, N.J., whose territory includes
“But what was important was that we all reached out to each
other and got a whole group there. If all of these associations can
come in with one voice, I think it does make a difference to a
state that’s looking at a code or regulation change …
It says our industry isn’t arguing about the
Collaboration among industry advocates has never been more
critical, experts say. Whether it’s over suction entrapment
in the Northeast, licensing in Florida or energy legislation in
Texas, today’s stakeholders have learned that speaking with
one voice is the only way to affect positive results.
Prior to 2009, the state’s pool industry had never
successfully gotten a bill filed with the Texas legislature.
But that all changed when the Aquatic Professionals Education
Council, the state’s advocacy group, hired lobbyists Steve
Koebele and Jake Posey. The pair brought a familiarity with the
statehouse and its lawmakers, and made an immediate impact on the
local industry’s government relations efforts.
“APEC has been branded over the last couple of sessions for
staying on top of pool-related legislation and issues,” Posey
Their impact is further enhanced by Koebele and Posey also
representing the Texas interests of the Independent Pool and Spa
Service Association. What’s more, members of IPSSA and APSP
can be found on APEC’s board of directors. Coordination,
therefore, is largely organic, Posey
“We regularly talk to members of all three organizations to
get their input and make sure we’re addressing their
individual concerns,” he says. “There’s an open
line of communication between all parties so things can get done.
We’ve really established a positive and mutually beneficial
Representing the industries in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania
and Connecticut, NESPA has been an affiliate of APSP since June
2001. Prior to that, it was known as Region 1 of the National Spa
& Pool Institute, APSP’s predecessor.
Though NESPA covers all types of pools, its focus is on the
residential market. So when issues affecting public pools arise,
most often at the state level, officials typically will reach out
to their APSP counterparts, as well as the National Swimming Pool
Foundation in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“If we’re dealing with a state commission that
doesn’t know a lot about pools, it’s appropriate for
someone like me or [executive director Lawrence Caniglia] to give a
general explanation of our position,” Pitrak says. “But
when you’re talking to building code officials who have a
greater technical knowledge of things, you have to plan for it and
seek out the experts you need.”
Inter-organizational ties are a hallmark of the Sarasota,
Fla.-based Florida Swimming Pool Association as well. Prior to
2000, the group was known as Region 7 of NSPI. But at the turn of
the century, it broke away and became an affiliate of the national
Then, in 2008, FSPA became an entirely independent
However, the groups do share members, as well as a government
affairs director, Jennifer Hatfield, which helps to streamline
Working through differences
Disagreements between associations are rare, but they do arise. The
key is ensuring that any differences are addressed before the issue
reaches a government agency or figure, advocates say.
Last year, a bill proposing energy-efficiency standards for
residential pool pumps, motors and controls was introduced before
Texas lawmakers. It was similar to a measure that was raised in
2009, but that ultimately didn’t go anywhere.
And as in Connecticut, the bill’s language borrowed heavily
from California’s Title 20, which is generally considered a
template for national standards. This raised red flags for
APEC’s lobbyists, however, who cited the state’s unique
landscape and larger average pool sizes, among their concerns with
“Some standards work better in some places than
others,” Posey says. “Energy-efficiency is a good
example, when you’re talking about pumps and how they work.
Here you have a lot of large-lot homes, for example. So it’s
important to discuss that — what works for California or New
Jersey may not work for Texas or Florida or Arizona, and
But when the bill re-surfaced in 2011, lobbyists for APEC and APSP
worked seamlessly to arrive at language that was consistent with
both local and national interests. Again, the measure failed to
become law, but it wasn’t due to lack of coordination by the
Another piece of 2011 legislation, this one in Florida, presented a
different set of challenges to the state association.
As proposed, HB 849 allowed for one of several
entrapment-prevention options to be installed as backup devices on
commercial pools and spas. Since 1993, the state had required that
all public vessels be built with gravity-drainage systems. However,
pre-1993 pools and spas weren’t addressed until 2009, when
the health code was revised to require gravity-system retrofits of
HB 849, which closely mirrored provisions in the federal Virginia
Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, found both supporters and
critics within FSPA itself. Backers of the national standard,
including many from APSP, argued for uniformity and the perceived
cost-savings that came with options; opponents pointed to
Florida’s safety record — not a single known entrapment
on a gravity-fed pool.
Hatfield, meantime, found herself in the unenviable position of
having to represent a local industry whose members were divided.
“The problem is that legislators become confused,” she
says of such situations. “They basically [tell the pool
industry] that we don’t even know what we want, so come back
when you can tell us what that is.”
Officially FSPA came out against the legislation, arguing that the
gravity provision should remain for at least another 12 months. But
not all members agreed — nor did the legislature, which
passed a version of the bill despite FSPA’s objections.
But new rules still would require clarification by the state
Department of Health. This provided a perfect opportunity for
collaboration between FSPA and another group it didn’t
usually work with in that context.
The United Pool & Spa Association is comprised largely of
commercial pool builders. Though not quite a rival group, the
Tampa, Fla.-based organization has on occasion butted heads
But in the wake of 849’s passage, FSPA established a
commercial advisory group, which was comprised of approximately 10
members from each state association as well as APSP. The alliance
has worked with the health department on an acceptable
interpretation of the law, and coordinated its efforts over a
series of meetings and conference calls.
“Our lobbyists had worked together during the legislative
session, and we knew the issue was important to [UPSA] as
well,” said Wendy Parker Barsell, executive director of FSPA.
“We decided that giving the DOH a single, consistent message
from the entire pool industry would be more successful than each of
us giving them something separately, which may differ.”
As an industry advocate, APSP’s strength lies in its
ANSI-approved standards. Those technical guidelines are key points
of reference when pool and spa professionals are confronted with
rule changes or proposals from state, local or federal bodies,
In Connecticut, this time in 2010, those standards would prove
It began when a state building inspector allowed for five pools
with dual main drains to be built without safety vacuum release
systems (SVRS), which was contrary to state law but a common
practice at one time. His successor, however, overturned the waiver
and notified the builder that the pools had to be retrofitted with
NESPA contacted APSP’s authorities on hydraulics and the
ANSI-7 standard for suction entrapment avoidance in an effort to
convince the state that the dual-drain pools did not need the
“It was bigger than us, and we sought out the experts we
needed,” Pitrak says. “If we can’t explain it,
we’ll get someone who can, whether it’s in the realm of
technical knowledge or with the process
While it offers services like a certified builder program, APSP
tends to be more deferential on matters such as licensing or
permitting, which typically are more state-specific, Hatfield
Case in point is the Golden State, whose pool and spa trade has
been safeguarded by the California Spa and Pool Industry Education
Council, or SPEC, since 1976. As a lobbying force, SPEC is credited
with preserving the local industry’s survival countless times
over, be it fending off water restrictions or beating back
obtrusive barrier requirements.
As the industry’s bellwether, California also sets the pace
for legislation — see the aforementioned Title 20 —
that often spreads into other regions. And it boasts a diverse
membership that carries expertise in a number of fields, from
chemistry to manufacturing to mechanics. But that’s not to
say SPEC exists in a vacuum.
“You’re always stronger when you have a joint presence,
or when you represent the industry as a whole,” says CEO John
Norwood. “SPEC is SPEC, but hopefully some will think
we’re an adjunct, in a way, of the national organization.
We’re not a chapter, and there’s no financial
relationship or anything, but as California goes, so goes the rest
of the nation.“
SPEC’s out there trying to defend the industry on a lot of
fronts,” he added, “so we feel like we always have the
support of other groups.”