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New public pool regulations ask N.H. owners to better ‘Know Thy Pool’

picture of a very dirty pool
We hope we don't have to tell you pools are not supposed to be this color.

The New Hampshire state employee who oversees public pool safety wasn’t hired for his aquatic abilities.

“I swim like a cinder block,” Ted Diers admits.

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Nevertheless, he’s overseeing a major overhaul in the regulation of more than 1,300 public pools and spas in the state. The changes were prompted by a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires' Disease in 2018 linked to a hot tub at a hotel in Hampton that left dozens sick and killed two people.

“That was a pretty significant event,” Diers says. “That was a pool we didn’t know about, wasn’t in our database.”

In 2019, the New Hampshire legislature passed a set of reforms to ensure the state has a better system for tracking and inspecting public pools. Starting last week, the Department of Environmental Services announced it is requiring a one-time registration form be filed by every public pool operator in the state. (Private pools, including residential pools, are exempt.)

The new rules also require public pool operators to obtain an independent certification starting in 2022, and begin filing annual self-assessments of their facilities that come with a new $250 fee to fund the pool monitoring program.

“So making sure they actually know their pool,” Diers says. “That’s the mantra of these pool changes, is really, know thy pool.”

The self-assessment will include items already subject to current inspections performed by DES, including water quality, appropriate signs and fencing, and that all pool machinery is functioning properly.

“You know what we are going to look for,” Diers says. “You go look for it. And fix it, if it is not right.”

Currently, the state has a lone pool inspector, Tim Wilson, who along with a rotating summer intern is usually able to visit about a quarter of the public pools in the state each year.

“This truly is a complicated topic with a lot of disciplines involved. It’s not just a hole in the ground with water,” Wilson says.

Along with ensuring public health, DES views its pool regulations as an economic imperative. Negative publicity following outbreaks or injuries at a hotel or waterpark can have a ripple effect on tourism.

“We want our tourist industry to thrive,” Wilson says. “I’ve always looked at businesses as being my clients. It is my job to help them succeed.”

Both Diers and Wilson stress that most public pools, from waterparks to town-run facilities, have good, safe water.

“They take their pools very seriously,” says Diers.

The new rules, he says, are aimed at spurring the murkier operators to do a bit better.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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