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    Credit: DENISE BAKER

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 equipment.

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 undergoing revisions.

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 became law.

“So they did make accommodations,” says Paulette Pitrak, deputy executive director of the Northeast Spa & Pool Association in Hamilton, N.J., whose territory includes Connecticut.

“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 issue.”             

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.

Linked together

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 says. 

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 notes.      

“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 working relationship.”

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 organization.

Then, in 2008, FSPA became an entirely independent entity.  

However, the groups do share members, as well as a government affairs director, Jennifer Hatfield, which helps to streamline communication.

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 the bill.

“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 vice-versa.”

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 industry.

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 those vessels. 

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 with FSPA.

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.”

Lending support

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, Hatfield says.

In Connecticut, this time in 2010, those standards would prove invaluable.

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 SVRS’s.

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 devices. 

“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 itself.”  

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 adds.    

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.”