Pool Permits and Water Safety

Harris County Public Health (HCPH) is actively engaged in protecting its residents from harm on land and in the water. Houston’s humid, subtropical climate lends itself to warm weather the majority of the year, so thousands of residents head poolside or to beaches, rivers, or lakes from March through October. Tragically, one false move can ruin a day in the sun, whether it’s drowning, injuries, germs or accidents.

To further protect the public, Harris County Commissioner's Court recently granted HCPH the ability to proactively permit and inspect public pools and spas in unincorporated Harris County. Previously, HCPH performed inspections only.

Why Make a Splash In Houston?

  • 70% of African American children cannot swim
  • 60% of Latino children cannot swim
  • 40% of Caucasian children cannot swim
  • Ten people drown each day in the U.S.

Participation in formal swimming lessons could reduce the likelihood of childhood drowning by 88%.

Permits and Inspections

In January 2017, the Harris County Commissioner's Court approved the implementation of the Rules for Regulation of Swimming Pools and Spas in Unincorporated Areas of Harris County.

According to the CDC, in 2008, on average 12.1% of inspected pools identified serious violations that threatened the public's health and resulted in immediate pool closure. In 2013, the number increased to 12.5%.

For Harris County, a total of 160 (21%) of 769 inspections identified serious violations that threatened the public's health and resulted in immediate pool closure.

The reasons for closure included:

  • Improper chlorine and pH levels can transmit germs such as Shigella and norovirus, which cause gastroenteritis
  • Water clarity
  • Missing or unapproved Drain Cover/Suction Vacuum Release Devices (SRVDs) that could be a drowning risk

The mission of Harris County Public Health’s Swimming Pool and Spa Program is to prevent and eliminate public health hazards associated with the operation of public swimming pools, spas, interactive water features, and fountains in unincorporated Harris County by inspecting, permitting and providing for citizen complaint investigations.

Permit regulations:
  1. The owner of any property within the unincorporated areas of the county, must have a separate valid permit issued by HCPH for each "pool" as defined in 25 Tex. Adm. Code § 265.182 or "interactive water feature or fountain," as defined by Texas Health and Safety Code Ann. § 341.0695(a)  on his property. 
  2. The permit will be valid for one (1) year and is not transferable. 
  3. Permits must be applied for within 180 days after the date of recorded regulation or within 30 days after permit notice by HCPH. 
  4. No fees will be assessed for a pool permit.
  5. A pool operated solely by an educational institution/school or Harris County agency is exempt from a permitting fee, including inspection or re-inspection fees, but not exempt from compliance with state law and county regulations. 
  6. Training and certification can be obtained by completion of Texas Department of State Health Services approved courses or their equivalent.
  7. No person shall operate a pool who does not have a valid permit issued by the HCPH. 

If a commercial pool is found to have issues and follow-up inspections are required to ensure the pool does not pose a public health hazard, you can now pay for additional fees online:

Swimming Pool, Spa, Artificial Swimming Lagoon Permit Fee Schedule
Permit (Artificial Swimming Lagoon)
2nd Re-Inspection Fee
Facility Plan Review Fee
Permit (Interactive Water Features and Fountains)
1st Re-Inspection Fee
Change of Ownership Fee
3rd Re-Inspection Fee
Nonactive Pool Surveillance Fee
Duplicate or Replacement Permit
Change of Ownership Re-Inspection Fee
Plan Review Re-Inspection Fee
Pool Training Class
Permit (Swimming Pool/Spa) per separate filter

Drowning and Water-Related Injury Prevention

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowning is a leading cause of unintentional injury death among children aged 1–14 years old. In fact, drowning kills more young children aged 1-4 than anything else, with the exception of birth defects.

Locally in 2016, 18 children drowned in Harris County alone. As of June 2017, two drowning fatalities have been recorded in Harris County.

Drowning is 100% preventable. Of drowning victims who survive and are treated in emergency rooms, more than half are hospitalized or transferred for further care. These nonfatal drowning injuries can cause severe brain damage that may result in memory problems, learning disabilities, or permanent loss of basic functioning (or permanent vegetative state).

In an effort to keep residents safe in the water, Harris County Public Health reminds residents to be cautious around water, always stay alert and supervise your children at all times!

Top 10 Ways to Prevent Drowning and Water-Related Injuries
  1. Learn to Swim. Swimmers can prevent drowning by learning swimming skills, like floating.
  2. Wear U.S. Coast Guard approved life preservers and life jackets. Make sure they fit. Air-filled or foam toys do not serve as safety devices – they are toys only.
  3. Make sure that a rescue ring or pole is available poolside in case of emergency.
  4. Use the buddy system: Always swim with a buddy or under the supervision of parents, caregivers or lifeguards.
  5. Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Keep rescue equipment, a phone and emergency phone numbers poolside.
  6. Supervise children at all times. When supervising kids near water, avoid distracting activities such as  playing cards, reading or talking on the phone and stay close enough to reach out and touch young children at all times.
  7. Install a four‐sided pool fence, at least four feet high, that separates the house and play area from the pool area. Use self‐closing and self‐latching gates that open outward with latches that are out of the reach of children. And keep those latches working!
  8. Clear the pool area of toys. After use, immediately remove floats, balls and other toys from the pool and surrounding area. These may encourage children to enter the pool area unsupervised and to potentially fall into the pool.
  9. Make sure the drain at the bottom of the deep end is visible and that all drain covers are secure and in good repair.
  10. Avoid drinking alcohol before or during swimming, boating or water skiing. Do not drink alcohol while supervising children!

More information:

CDC Website: Healthy and Safe Swimming Resources






Clean, Healthy Pool/Spa Water

We all share the water we swim in. Swimmers should take simple steps to protect themselves, their friends and their family from germs when planning to jump or dive in to a pool, lake, spa or ocean.

Six Signs You Should Look For Before Jumping In

  1. Pools need constant attention: monitoring the chemicals is crucial to a healthy pool. If it appears the pool attendant is consistently distracted, the pool’s chlorine level may be compromised and you could come in contact with bad bugs like norovirus, which can cause vomiting and cramps.
  2. If the pool water isn’t sparkling and clear, avoid it. Lack of visibility poses a huge threat – no one can see if you went under. 
  3. While babies are adorable, pre-potty-trained babies can easily contaminate an entire pool with diaper leakage. 
  4. If you see a distinct green-colored film floating on a lake’s surface, there may be algae you can’t see. Don’t take the plunge and don't let your pet jump in either. 
  5. If you see a line of foam, seaweed, or other debris pulled in the opposite direction (out into the ocean) there could be a riptide offshore. Even a strong swimmer is no match for those kind of runaway currents. 
  6. A crowded pool multiplies the bacteria, germs and viruses that are in the water. Wait and jump in later.
A major health issue: Diarrhea 

The pool is the last place you should be if you are sick with diarrhea. Most swimming-related outbreaks reported to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are caused by diarrheal germs like Crypto (short for Cryptosporidium), Giardia, Shigella, norovirus, and E. coli O157:H7. Crypto outbreaks linked to swimming are increasing and are particularly hard to control because the germ is not easily killed by chlorine. 

Just one diarrheal incident in the water can release millions of germs. If someone swallows a mouthful of the water, it can cause diarrhea lasting up to three weeks. That’s why it’s so important not to swim or let your kids swim if sick with diarrhea.  

Top Five Pool/Spa Safety Tips

  1. Stay out of the water if you or your child is sick with diarrhea or have an open wound.
  2. Don’t drink the water. Tell your children not to drink the water. 
  3. Shower before you get in the water. Rinsing off in the shower for just a minute helps get rid of any germs that may be on your body. 
  4. Take your children on bathroom breaks every hour.
  5. Check diapers and change them in a bathroom or diaper-changing area (not poolside) to keep germs away from the pool.

For more information about Harris County Public Health’s Swimming Pool and Spa Program, call 713.274.6300.