To quote Charles Dickens, this is the best of times and the worst of times. As the industry grapples with extreme demand, it also faces a host of challenges that make meeting that demand all the more difficult. Now, it’s starting to look like drought can be added to the list of dark clouds looming on the horizon.
By Eric Herman
Purely from the demand standpoint, the industry has never seen a time of greater abundance. The pandemic caused a huge chunk of the population to hunker down for what seemed indefinitely, dramatically elevating the importance of the at-home environment for many families. Pools and spas, in particular, have gone from being a luxury to something approaching a necessity.
Yet, this is all happening at a time where a variety of factors are putting even more pressure on the supply chain and the industry’s capacity to answer the demand. The labor shortage, Trichlor shortage, increasing lumber and PVC prices, the widespread freeze damage in Texas and now, the industry’s old nemesis, drought, has re-emerged in a big way.
Drought conditions in California are currently reaching levels experienced during the last four-year span of below-average precipitation. California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently declared a drought emergency in 39 additional counties, including most of the parched Central Valley and the Klamath River area near the Oregon border, where tensions over water allocations have become a fractious issue. Water levels in the state’s major reservoirs have dropped far below average, with the dry season approaching.
Rainfall in almost all of the state has dropped below half of average. The Sierra Nevada snowpack dropped to 8% of average as of May 10, and the dry air and soil are drinking up potential runoff. Streamflow is likewise approaching record lows.
This all comes amid increasing calls from farmers, legislators and lobbyist in the Central Valley, where growers are set to receive only 5% of their expected water allocations from the state. Growers say the sharp cutbacks in state and federal water supplies will mean they will suffer huge economic losses and be forced to fallow fields and sell off cattle. Food prices are likely to rise.
I realize that this is depressing and frustrating news given that there’s not anything anyone can do to increase rainfall. Like the economy we are talking about forces far beyond anyone’s control. So, the industry will do as it’s always done and get by among calls for moratoriums on filling and building pools. We’ve been here before, albeit never at such an already tumultuous time.
On a purely tactical level, the onset of another drought means watershapers need to be prepared with a collective resolve to make the familiar arguments about water usage and the importance of maintaining clean pools and spas, along with the overall benefits to consumers and society as a whole.
In the broader view, the rapid return of drought means that we as an industry, and indeed as a society, should assume that scarcity of water is always a possibility and ultimately inevitable. It’s cyclical and always will be. In drought-prone areas, as in basically the entire southwestern U.S. and many other parts of the sunbelt, there should never be a let up when it comes to building pools and landscapes that are “water wise.”
That probably means greater use of automatic covers, more care in maintaining water quality to prevent the need for draining and refilling, and creating more drought-tolerant landscapes beyond the water’s edge. From an infrastructure and resource management standpoint, we should be always calling for the addition of desalination plants and water-wise farming measures in Calif, which, together, hold the potential of dramatically reducing water scarcity throughout much of the state.
Nothing about the challenges brought on by drought is new, but with the extraordinary demand and other external pressures, it is more important than ever to consider what it means to design, engineer and build watershapes in a time of dryness.