"Parents have a false sense of safety that their children are safe and protected in these wave pools," said Democratic state Sen. Elaine Alquist.
Carlos Alejandro Flores was at the Great Barrier Reef wave pool Thursday with his mother and 8-year-old sister before he was found not breathing in 2 feet of water.
The pool has been closed indefinitely as state officials and park experts continue to investigate the incident. The deadline for introducing Senate bills has passed, but Alquist said she hopes to rewrite an existing bill to add language about wave pools or "in the worst case" propose a bill in January.
She envisions a bill that would:
- Require life vests for non-swimmers or children less than 4 feet tall.
- Prohibit children under a certain height or age from being in a pool unattended.
- Set a required ratio for the number of lifeguards per swimmer.
- Require parks to set off an alarm or signal before waves start.
Great America already rings a bell and, as of this week, the park began requiring life vests for children less than 4 feet tall for the wave pool and the Castaway Creek river ride, park spokesman Gene Fruge said.
The changes and proposed legislation show that something can be learned from the tragedy, said Jessica Tapia, the family's former babysitter.
"I think that's the best thing to do because you learn from mistakes," Tapia said.
"They know it happened once. Maybe they should try to have more lifeguards or something so it won't happen to another family, because it's painful."
Family members, who attended a memorial service and buried Carlos on Tuesday, declined to discuss the incident. Alquist said the parents, park owners and the state are all responsible for "preventable" deaths such as that of Carlos.
"As a parent and grandparent, I believe a parent has the greatest responsibility in a child's life," she said.
"When it comes to the safety of our children in places other than the home, in public places, it behooves the state to have a strong and consistent policy."
Alquist commended Great America's new requirements, but said more regulations are needed. California laws about wave pools are "weak and almost non-existent," because there are so few and they are so general, Alquist said.
For instance, state law requires that public access into a wave pool must only be from the shallow end and the main drain is visible from the wave pool deck.
Ohio law, by contrast, has specific rules regulating how many lifeguards must be on duty in water that is deeper than three feet and requiring all children shorter than 48 inches to wear a life vest or pass a swimming test to gain access to a wave pool, unless they are accompanied by an adult.
No serious injuries at either Great America or Raging Waters have been reported so far this year, Cal-OSHA spokeswoman Kate McGuire said. Carlos' drowning is the first death in a wave pool reported this year in the state.
As Alquist writes her legislation, she said she plans to consult with industry experts, several of whom said they would hold off on commenting until the legislation is formally proposed. Fruge said the park is awaiting results of its investigation.
Until then, he said, "how can you know how to tweak or adjust something?" Alquist said there is no death rate in wave pools that should be considered acceptable.
"This was a really, really sad tragedy," she said. "We're all going to have to work together to create uniform safety requirements at these parks."
MediaNews staff writer Leslie Griffy contributed to this report.
Contact Julie Patel at jpatel(at)mercurynews.com or (408) 271-3679.