Task Force Would Study Swimming Pool Drainage

By KATE ELIZABETH QUERAM, Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS (March 26, 2008) - Marylanders accustomed to emptying their pool water into sewage drains and storm gutters at the end of sunbathing season could face new regulations, pending the report of a proposed task force.

Under current law, only public pool facilities not directly connected to a sewer are required to apply for a discharge permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment before proceeding with drainage. The permit requires that the water be chlorine-free and have low acidity, among other things, but doesn't apply to private, backyard pools - so discharged water filled with chemicals may still be seeping into Maryland's waterways, said Delegate Tom Hucker, D-Montgomery, the bill's main sponsor.

"Pool water that goes into a storm drain is minimally filtered and can then go into the [Chesapeake Bay] or one of its tributaries," Hucker said. "Any chemical added to a pool is designed to kill something."

The bill aims to address the problem by establishing a task force to study the environmental impact of this type of pool drainage, and then report back to the General Assembly with findings and possible solutions.

Hucker said the problem is complex because different areas of the state may require different drainage methods. One solution could be to drain pool water over a grassy area, allowing the roots to absorb some of the chemicals and prevent them from ending up elsewhere, Hucker said.

"But people in areas with well water wouldn't want that," he said. "Basically, we just need to get a handle on the problem."

A spokeswoman for the Department of the Environment disagreed, saying that current regulations have not been proven ineffective.

"While the delegate's bill is well-intentioned, there is no evidence that swimming pools require any greater level of regulation," said Kim Lamphier. "The current regulations are sufficient to protect public health and the environment."

The legislation passed the House last week, 110 to 22, and came before the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee Tuesday. In his presentation of the bill, Hucker said that 25 states and the District of Columbia have regulations on pool drainage, but that in Maryland, very little is done to educate pool owners about what chemicals to use or possible environmentally-friendly alternatives.

Acknowledging the issue's complexities, Hucker said, "I don't have a solution for the problem - that's why I'm proposing the task force."

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