Operating a public swimming pool or spa requires a health permit.
"Public" means the pool or spa is used by people other than the owners or private guests, such as a community center lap pool, a recreational water park, a school pool, or a spa at a hotel or apartment complex.
Contra Costa Environmental Health regularly inspects more than 1,600 permitted facilities to ensure they comply with state laws and regulations.
Our agency must also approve new construction or major changes to an existing public pool or spa before work begins.
For detailed information about Environmental Health's expectations for proper maintenance and physical characteristics of a public pool or spa – what our inspectors evaluate – check this guide.
We also have inspectors available to answer questions by appointment or telephone.
- Do I need a permit?
- Clean Water
- Waterborne Illness
- Pool Safety
- Construction or Remodel
Do I need a permit?
You do not need a permit to repair a pool or spa, or to replace equipment with parts that have the same design specifications.
You do need plan review and approval to build a new public pool or spa. A pool is "public" if it is used by more than three owners, including their families and guests, or for commercial purposes.
You also need plan review to do any work that changes or upgrades any part of a public pool or spa. That includes:
- Equipment (diving boards, ladders, handrails, etc.)
- Pumps and filters
- Chemical controllers and feeders
- Pipes and drains
- Fences, restrooms, showers and other structures
- Shell resurfacing
Begin the permitting process with your local building inspection department before coming to us.
Fees for plan review depend on the scope of work. Alterations outside Environmental Health's area of regulation, such as electrical work, may also require plan review from other agencies.
- Public pool and spa operators must follow all state laws and regulations. Environmental Health inspects public pools annually and whenever a concern is reported.
- Every public pool needs a public health permit. Permits require annual renewal, and can only be terminated or inactivated if the pool is removed or demolished.
- Report any injuries or suspected cases of waterborne illness or water contamination to Environmental Health within 24 hours – clear the pool immediately and call 925-608-5500.
- Close your pool immediately if there is equipment or power failure, water chemistry problems, or another unsafe condition.
- Permit holders must keep at least two years of pool records on file and show them to anyone upon request.
- Post all required safety signs.
- If a pool or spa charges direct fees for use, trained lifeguards must be on duty whenever it is open. Use the lifeguard record keeping checklist.
- Towels or swimwear provided by the pool or spa should be properly laundered after each use and kept in separate storage.
- Keep a water test kit on hand to measure available free disinfectant, pH and cyanuric acid (if used).
- Maintaining safety equipment, such as fencing and covers, is your responsibility. So is maintaining clean and safe facilities adjoining the pool, such as restrooms and showers.
- Public pools and spas are strongly advised to have an emergency plan for responding to injuries and accidents such as chlorine off gassing (chemical controllers), adverse weather, and power disruptions.
- Pools categorized as public accommodations (such as hotel or motel pools) or municipal (such as city or school pools) must comply with disability access laws.
- Animals are not allowed, except service animals.
Call 925-608-5500 if:
- Within five days, two or more people report having diarrhea after swimming
- There is an injury, drowning, or death
Unsafe conditions may include:
- Missing or broken fencing, gates or other enclosure
- Inadequate disinfection
- pH that is too high or low
- Heavy pool chemical fumes
- Cloudy water that obscures the deep end or main drain
- Chemicals, bacteria or other contamination
- Missing or broken suction outlet covers
- Water chemistry log
- Fecal Vomit Blood Incident Response Report
- Lifeguard checklist, if applicable
- Reportable waterborne illness
- Drowning incident response form
See the Quick Links section for downloadable examples, or use your own.
All public pool operators must use a water test kit that measures:
- FAC – germ-killing disinfectant, measured in parts per million (PPM)
- pH – a measure of the pool's acidity. A safe range is 7.2 to 7.8
- Cyanuric acid – stabilizes FAC to help it last longer in sunlight
Only pool service professionals or experienced pool operators should adjust water chemistry, because the chemicals can be dangerous if misused.
Cloudy water or strong chlorine odor could mean improper chemical treatment, a filter malfunction or contamination. Indoor pools need proper ventilation – check with a local building department for more information.
Neglected pools can turn green from algae growth and serve as breeding grounds for disease-carrying mosquitos. If you notice one, get help from the Contra Costa Mosquito & Vector Control District.
Improperly used pool chemicals, bodily waste and other contaminants can make swimmers sick.
Operators must close their public pool or spa and report to Environmental Health within 24 hours whenever blood, feces or vomit enters the water.
The Fecal/Vomit/Blood Incident Response Form includes instructions for properly cleaning the pool.
The most common waterborne illnesses are caused by germs carried in diarrhea. People recently ill with diarrhea should not swim.
Swim diapers do NOT prevent feces from entering the water.
Animals, such as raccoons and migratory birds, can also contaminate pools. Removal and disinfection generally cleans a pool containing a dead animal.
To prevent drownings and injury, all public pools and spas must follow strict design specifications for features such as drain covers, pool covers, handrails, safety signs and enclosures around pools.
Operators should familiarize themselves with the body of law collectively called "the pool code," which includes:
- California Health & Safety Code
- California Code of Regulations Title 22
- California Building Code Title 24
- Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act (federal)
- Pool and Spa Safety Act – Assembly Bill 1020 (state)
Environmental Health inspectors assess all public pools and spas based on these laws. To ensure that your pool is up to date with all legal safety standards, this guide includes instructions and advice for all maintenance and physical features of public pools and spas in Contra Costa County.
Note that several popular models of pool and in-ground spa drain covers were recalled in 2011 for safety reasons.
If a pool or spa charges direct fees for use, certified lifeguards must be on duty whenever the facility is open. Use the lifeguard record keeping checklist.
If lifeguard service is offered, a Red Cross 10-person first aid kit is required, or an equivalent containing:
- First aid guide
- Absorbent compress
- Sterile pads, adhesive bandages and tape
- Disposable gloves
- Elastic wrap
- Emergency blanket
- Resuscitation mask with one-way valve
- Blood-borne pathogen spill kit
Any swim instructors at the pool must also be certified.
Lifeguard certification – Red Cross advanced lifesaving certificate, YMCA senior lifesaving certificate or equivalent, plus first aid/CPR
Swim Instructor certification – American Red Cross Emergency Water Course or equivalent, plus first aid/CPR
- Pool/Spa Forms
- 2018 CAEHA Public Swimming Pools and Spas
- Public Pool & Spa permit fees
- Public Pool & Spa plan review fees
- Recreational Health Topics Guide
- Inspection form
- Sign up to receive paperless inspection reports
- Building inspection department list
- Sanitary district list
- CDC Health Promotion Materials
- California Department of Public Health (legal updates)
- Model Aquatic Health Code (voluntary; from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention)
- World Health Organization pool safety guide
- Consumer Product Safety Commission
- Americans with Disabilities Act Requirements
- Information from the CDC about waterborne illnesses
- Tips for preventing skin infections (MRSA)
Construction or Remodel
Call 911 immediately if there is an injury or life-threatening hazard in or around your public pool or spa.
Immediately clear the pool area.
Follow instructions from police, fire and other first responders.
Within 24 hours, call Environmental Health at 925-608-5500.
Contra Costa Environmental Health
2120 Diamond Boulevard, Suite 100
Plan review questions: planreviewEH@cchealth.org