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Preparing for a Familiar Battle
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Preparing for a Familiar Battle

The lines are being drawn. In a narrative that has become familiar to many in the watershaping industry, pools, spas and other water features are at risk of severe filling and even building permit restrictions as a result of the historic drought impacting some of the industry’s western markets.  

By Eric Herman

As water shortages worsen in the western U.S., once again, water-conservation restrictions placed on building new pools and filling existing ones loom large on the watershaping industry’s horizon. The severity of the current drought has reached historic and alarming levels in several states prompting government agencies and elected officials to consider restricting non-essential water usage.

Starting in California, which has often been the cradle of restrictive measures that spread to other states, effective June 1, a set of unprecedented water restrictions are in store for about six million Southern Californians living in areas that depend on water piped from the state’s rapidly depleting reservoirs. 

The Metropolitan Water District is now requiring six major water providers, and the dozens of cities and local districts they supply, to either limit residents to outdoor watering once a week or reduce total water use below an established target.

Rules governing swimming pools remain unchanged under the current Level 3 restrictions, but how long that lasts is anyone’s guess. Far more certain are the disturbingly low levels in a majority of the state’s major reservoirs, many of which have fallen to record lows, even before the start of summer.   

Some area water agencies are taking steps to regulate swimming pools. Many, including the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, have for now stopped at pool cover recommendations. “During Phase 3, you will be able to fill your pool, but it is strongly recommended that you use a pool cover to prevent evaporation when the pool is not in use,” DWP spokeswoman Ellen Cheng said. “This will significantly reduce evaporation from your pool.”

Cheng said the next highest phase, Phase 4, would mandate covering residential swimming pools, while Phase 5 would prohibit filling them with water. The phases apply to residential and commercial pools.

Ventura County is several steps ahead and has already announced new restrictions for filling water features and pools:

  • Filling or re-filling ornamental lakes or ponds is prohibited, except to the extent needed to sustain aquatic life, provided that such animals are of significant value and have been actively managed within the water feature prior to the declaration of a supply shortage level. 
  • Refilling of more than one foot and initial filling of residential swimming pools and spas is prohibited. 

There can be little doubt that similar restrictions are on the way in other municipalities and counties. In a letter to the Municipal Water District of Las Virgenes, written in support of a member subject to the new MWD restrictions, the California Pool and Spa Association (CPSA) argued that prohibiting the filling of swimming pools would be, “at most, a symbolic gesture.”

According to the association’s government relations manager, John Norwood, a new swimming pool requires an average of 14,000 to 18,000 gallons of water. This equates to “a fraction of 1% of the annual consumption of city ​​water” when multiplied by  the sum of all new pool permits each year.

Swimming pools and their surrounding hardscapes also save water over time, Norwood said, as they often replace parched lawns – “thereby saving water that was used to irrigate what the pool is replacing. “

The CPSA offers the following facts:

• Pools, hot tubs, and spas are not water wasters. Properly maintained pools and spas are actually incredibly water conscious compared to the lawns they often replace, saving on average 12,000 gallons in the first year, and 30,000 gallons each subsequent year.

• The pool, hot tub, and spa industry is critical to California’s economy. In 2020, the industry contributed more than $5 billion and nearly 95,000 jobs to the state economy. Pool construction alone employs local residents and requires permit fees and employee payroll taxes to be paid, all of which stimulate local economies.

• Pool, hot tub, and spa owners can practice water conservation with measurable results. There are simple things pool and spa owners can do to conserve water while still enjoying their backyard retreat, such as utilizing covers, limiting splashing and checking for leaks.

For more information from CPSA click here.

Image by CreativenvV | Shutterstock

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