For the aquatics industry, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act confirmed the worst fears about government regulation: It was carelessly crafted, poorly communicated, arbitrarily enforced and blindly implemented. In the name of aquatic safety, it actually shut facilities down. 

More than two years after its implementation, just the acronym VGB is enough to get a rise out of many aquatics professionals.

Little wonder that the latest federal effort is getting a cool, even hostile, reception from what appears to be a majority of the industry. That effort is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Model Aquatic Health Code, MAHC for short. Despite that chummy acronym, one nervous professional characterized it as “VGB x 1,000.”

In some respects, that assessment is correct. The MAHC is an effort to create something that’s never been accomplished: a unified aquatic code. While VGB focused on one small aspect of aquatics (drain safety), MAHC will cover all aspects of aquatics. No fewer than 12 technical committees are hard at work right now trying to decide best practices in key areas such as lifeguarding/bather safety, and disinfection and water quality. What’s more, those committees are charged with basing those practices on science and data rather than the “this is how we’ve always done it” mentality that’s ruled aquatics for so long.

But it is not VGB. I repeat, MAHC is not VGB. That’s because unlike that federal law, MAHC is not a law at all. Instead, just as the name says, it is a model. And it is being created by industry professionals, not bureaucrats. The hope is that as aquatic codes are updated by states, municipalities and the thousands of governing bodies responsible for such regulations, they will look to MAHC for guidance. Some may even choose to adopt MAHC whole cloth.

But even though it isn’t a law, make no mistake about it, the MAHC is big — very, very big. It will affect you. It will affect your facility. Ignore it at your own peril.

That’s why we’ve created this year’s virtual conference, "The Model Aquatic Health Code: Cracking the Code," along with the feature and columns in this issue. This is your opportunity to learn about MAHC — the process, the nuts and bolts, and how it will affect you. For example, one of the conference’s seven seminars will look at the key question of liability. Even though MAHC isn’t a law, it will be a powerful weapon for attorneys to use against facilities that don’t follow it, just as VGB has come to be.

Still, there’s another important way MAHC differs from VGB: You have the opportunity to shape it. The only way you can do that, however, is to learn about MAHC. Our virtual conference is the place to start.

This isn’t just an invitation. It’s a call to action. One of the biggest complaints about VGB that I hear from professionals is that they didn’t get a say. This time, you get one. It’s up to you to make sure MAHC isn’t VGB x 1,000