Just in time for D.C. swimming season: Absurdly bureaucratic pool rules

Petula Dvorak
Columnist May 27, 2013

It’s so confusing, this weather, that I felt myself looking for the Sunset Boulevard exit the other day. At 72 degrees and sunny, this is Los Angeles weather. And that’s totally disorienting to the Beltway crowd.

We can watch Rolling Thunder without melting into the pavement? The National Memorial Day Concert isn’t covert military desert training?

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

Washingtonians will ditch Brooks Brothers for Tommy Bahama. All those new burger places will start putting sprouts on everything. And maybe we’ll start doing all our power brokering at the pool.

But over at the pool, sadly, we’ll be reminded that we are smack dab in the middle of that East Coast bureaucratic swamp known as the District of Columbia.

If it wasn’t enough that Mayor Vincent Gray yet again refused to pick up former mayor (and Los Angeles native) Anthony William’s tradition of cannonballing into a local pool to open the swimming season this weekend, the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation treated us to a quintessential Washington gem of an announcement.

“Current District of Columbia Department of Health (DOH) regulations cite that ‘. . . no food, drink, glass or animals [are allowed] in the pool area,’ (25-C DCMR § 6403),” the statement began.

And the announcement acknowledged that this goes directly against the health department’s official warnings every time the temperature hits 100: “In order to avoid heat-related sickness, all Washingtonians are advised to take caution and drink plenty of fluids every 30 minutes.”

The bureaucrats understand this dilemma, which, of course, demands a study to examine the potential harm that may come with bringing filtered, bottled water near a pool. Understandable, of course. Who knows what Evian could do to that carefully calibrated chlorine bath?

Don’t worry, though. They’ve made some accommodations. The recreation and health departments, the press release advises, “will temporarily allow the use of non-glass, non-breakable, water bottles in the pool area at District aquatic facilities, pending a review of the regulations by both agencies.”

So let me get this straight: The agencies that are responsible for the health and recreation of the nation’s capital are going to spend time, energy and money on studying whether it’s okay to bring bottled water to the pool?

Seems swimming pools from Virginia to California have figured this out. Googling “pool rules” and “bottled water” tells you that.

Being a conscientious citizen and taxpayer, and because I haven’t been funding the city’s speed-camera kitty as much as I used to, I decided that my son and I would volunteer to conduct the study and maybe save the city some money.

We decided to visit the Wilson Aquatic Center, the crown jewel of the city’s swimming pools. We brought two kinds of bottled water with us: Deer Park and fancy-schmancy Evian. And I brought my notebook and camera to document this scientifically.

2:41 p.m.: Spilled approximately 50 ml of Evian water onto pool deck.

2:42 p.m.: Bottled water blended perfectly with existing puddles of pool water.

2:56 p.m.: Bottled water and pool water both dried, leaving pool deck clean.

3:01 p.m.: Poured approximately 100 ml of Deer Park water into kiddie-pool water.

3:02 p.m.: Pool water nonreactive.

3:04 p.m.: 6-year-old tester stood in approximately 24 inches of pool water while drinking Deer Park bottled water, letting approximately 20 ml of it run down his chest and into pool.

At this point, the lifeguard interrupted our test with that familiar, hyperventilating whistle.

“But water bottles are allowed now! I can have the plastic water bottle!” I yelled back.

He was silent for a moment, then shook his head and said something.

I didn’t hear and cupped my hand over my ear for the international signal of “I can’t hear you.”

He made the international hand signal for a thumb pressing the remote control.

“What?”

He did it again and mouthed “no pictures.”

“Really? No pictures?’

Maybe we’re in Los Angeles after all.

I looked at the long list on the Rules of the Pool board: No running on deck. No gum, spitting, nose blowing or urinating in pool. No aqua shoes. Only appropriate swim attire allowed in pool. And so forth.

It said nothing about photography.

Maybe the city can commission a study on that.

To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.

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