AUSTIN (KXAN) -- As summer approaches and temperatures rise, Austin residents expect health officials to check every public pool and ensure each one is safe and clean for swim season. But that may not always be the case.
A KXAN investigation has found public City of Austin pools are generally safe and free of life threatening dangers. By and large, pools have good signage, enclosures and all the required safety equipment.
However, a close look at public latest pool inspections reveals, in some cases, a scattered approach to public pool checks: some pools are checked when they are drained and closed, others are inspected near the end of the summer swim season, after problems may have lingered.
Robert Wright, environmental health supervisor with the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department, said city staffers do keep pools safe, as evidenced by inspection reports that show few, if any, life threatening problems last year.
Since KXAN's investigation began, Wright said the Health Department would amend its "standard operating procedures" to specify that routine check will be performed only when Parks Department-operated pools are open for the swim season and filled with water. He also said the Health Department would look into putting annual inspection reports online.
KXAN found about 45 code issues spread across half the city’s public pools and splash pads. Most of those violations were related to equipment problems, missing water quality test logs, lack of safety equipment and signage issues, such as “no diving” signs and absent deck markings. Other issues included faulty gates and latches. Though those issues need to be addressed, Wright said, his team is particularly focused on the more serious issues.
“We’re looking for, pretty much, an imminent health and safety hazard, which could be in the form of missing drain covers, dangling lights with exposed wiring,” he said. “Is the water clear? Can we see the bottom?”
KXAN found no instances of exposed underwater wiring or missing drains in the latest inspection reports.
The public can access the inspection reports, but they are not readily available. In order to get all the inspections for free, KXAN had to file a public information request under the Texas Public Information Act, schedule a visit to the health department and bring along a portable scanner to copy the documents. Wright said he would discuss with his boss the possibility of putting the inspections on the city website.
The health department’s six full-time inspectors dedicated to pool checks may be stretched thin, as well. Aside from roughly 45 city pools, Wright said, those inspectors also must visit more than 1,600 apartment and HOA pools in Travis County. According to inspection reports reviewed by KXAN, each inspection can last anywhere from 10 minutes to over an hour.
Natural pools Deep Eddy and Barton Springs aren’t included in KXAN’s analysis since those spots aren’t inspected like other chlorinated pools and splash pads.
Several pools had multiple violations. At Montopolis Pool in southeast Austin, health inspectors found a broken emergency phone, a gap in the fence, dirt in the pool, leaking equipment, a missing shepherd’s crook and no signage indicating children need adult supervision.
Candie Moreno, who lives near the pool, said the inspection report raises concerns.
“Some of our kids could be in danger, if those signs are not up,” Moreno said. “I would hope they would have everything up to date by the time it’s ready to open.”
Moreno, like many Austin residents, wants the city pools to be properly maintained. According to Austin residents surveyed for a 2014 city aquatic assessment, Austinites’ major wants include a lengthier swim season and keeping the pools “open and maintained.”
The city said it begins the process for opening Montopolis in February, and the pool does not require a self-latching gate because it’s only open when a lifeguard is present. The city has since fixed the gate enclosure and cleaned the water, according to a follow-up report.
In nearly every case of a problem being found in a pool inspection report, the city said it has followed up and fixed the issue.
“When we find a deficiency that requires re-inspection, our inspectors are trained to follow up,” Wright said.
Montopolis pool is one of several “critical pools” that require major renovation or rebuild. According to city documents, Montopolis Pool equipment, like other critical pools, is “not efficient,” and the city’s maintenance team is working to ensure the facility opens on time for the swim season.
“Our pools have an average age of 50 years. This can result in unexpected maintenance problems that can delay and/or temporarily shut down a facility,” said Joe Nixon, a Parks and Recreation Department communications manager.
KXAN found numerous instances of safety equipment missing from pools during inspections. The city said inspections done during the off-season may reflect missing safety equipment because the city typically stores equipment to prevent theft or vandalism.
The inspection reports also show scattered timing. Inspectors check some pools during the off-season, with no indication they were revisited during the swim season.
Wright said the city does inspect throughout the year, not just during swim season, checking for issues beyond water quality. For instance, the city makes sure there are no faulty gates that could allow a toddler through.
Wright said the city checks water quality during every inspection regardless of the season, but KXAN found instances in which inspectors appear to have checked empty pools.
Last April, inspectors visited Patterson Pool located near the Mueller development. The pool was closed, empty and no water quality testing could be done. Similarly, inspectors checked Dick Nichols wading pool while it was closed for maintenance last June.
No water quality testing was done last August during the inspection of Parque Zaragoza pool due to the pool closure. Same with Shipe Park Pool last April.
In a few cases, inspectors didn’t make it to public pools until late in the season. Dottie Jordan pool wasn’t checked until Sept. 16, and several other pools weren’t inspected until a month, or more, into the swim season.
KXAN counted at least eight public pools that were visited while drained or at a time when inspectors are unable to check water quality. The city noted a few of those pools, which inspectors visited last year, have been inactive for years.
Of all Austin pools, Commons Ford had the most safety issues. The city said that pool has not been open to the public since 2014. When KXAN visited Commons Ford in May, the pool was full of water and the filters appeared to be running.
West Austin pool has not been inspected since August 2014, according to city records. Carole Barasch, a health department communications manager said an inspection of that pool is pending.
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