Q&A: Wild Waves and our water recreation program

Update  10/17/16 – investigation report available for download

Original post 8/25/16 – The recent tragic death at Wild Waves amusement park has some people wondering what role Public Health plays in regulating pools and spas in King County. We sat down with Becky Elias, the manager of the Water Recreation Program to find out.

What is the Water Recreation program and what do you do?
Public Health’s Environmental Health Division operates the Water Recreation Program. Our job is to review the design and installation of pools and spas before they are constructed, altered or renovated to make sure they follow all required design regulations.  After a pool or spa is operational, our inspectors typically make in-person visits twice each year to make sure they are being operated correctly.

What kinds of pools do you regulate?
We regulate over 1,800 pools and spas throughout King County. This includes public pools and spas, which are open to anyone, and limited-use (semi-public) pools and spas that you might find in gyms, schools, hotels and apartment complexes.

What do you look for when you inspect spas and pools?
We look at a whole host of things from water quality to walking surfaces to barriers like doors and fences, to safety and emergency equipment. The features that we are looking for are laid out in several local, state, and federal regulations, including the King County Board of Health, Title 14 and Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 246-260, (WAC) 246-262 and The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act.

How often do you find violations at permitted facilities in King County?
We find violations quite often. Violations can be either a “critical” or “non-critical” item.  Critical violations are more serious. They can trigger an “unsatisfactory” on the inspection report.

When a pool gets an “unsatisfactory” inspection, what does that mean?
Unsatisfactory means the pool must fix the problem immediately if they can, or within a compliance schedule set by the inspector. The inspector may also close the pool altogether until the problem is fixed.

  • An example of a critical violation that could be addressed on the spot includes fixing the level of disinfectant in the water.
  • An example of a critical violation for which the inspector may set a timeframe in which the problem would need to be fixed includes an inoperable pool-side phone.
  • Examples of critical violations that would likely trigger a more lengthy closure include a missing or broken main drain cover, or that the inspector observed no lifeguard on duty where one is required.

Will you be conducting an investigation at Wild Waves?
Yes. An investigation is underway. In the event of any injury or death at a permitted facility, Public Health conducts an investigation as a matter of standard practice. During these investigations, we examine the environmental conditions of the facility – including physical structure, equipment and systems – to identify if it is properly functioning and maintained. As with a routine inspection, we review water quality, water pumps and filtration systems, review lifeguard operations, physical safeguards such as fences and other barriers, and the like.

What have you found?
The investigation is on-going.  When we have finished it, we will update this blog and post the investigation report here as well.

What is the inspection history at Wild Waves?
There are currently 11 different water recreation facilities within Wild Waves. We permit and inspect all of them. Our preliminary review of our records shows that in 2016, we’ve been to the park 4 times, and conducted 19 different inspections so far this year per our standard protocol.

  • Across these 19 inspections, there were 5 inspections that resulted in an unsatisfactory report. Three of those violations took place on 4/28, before the park opened for the season.
  • Two of the violations were found at an August 17. One of the 8/17 violations was at the wave pool. Our inspector found that the water had a high pH level, but the problem was corrected before the inspector left the site. The second violation occurred at the Riptide. The inspector found that part of the handrail was broken or warped. The inspector required the park to fix the problem within a day.

Have there been any injuries or deaths at Wild Waves?
Our drowning and near drowning records go back to 2001. With the exception of the death that occurred on August 20, 2016 no one has died from drowning at the park. Since 2001, our records show that across King County there have been 8 drowning deaths at pools or spas that Public Health permits. With respect to drowning survivals, since 2001 there have been 39 survivals at permitted pools or spas in King County. Four of those drowning survivals have been at Wild Waves.

Where can readers learn more about drowning prevention?http://www.seattlechildrens.org/classes-community/community-programs/drowning-prevention/myths-facts/