Drought stirs de­bate over backyard icon

The pool in­dus­try fights back as reg­u­la­tors en­act re­stric­tions.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Matt Stevens

The backyard swim­ming pool is again in reg­u­la­tors’ crosshairs as they scram­ble to save enough wa­ter to meet Gov. Jerry Brown’s or­der to cut ur­ban use 25%.

More than 20 wa­ter sup­pli­ers have im­ple­mented re- stric­tions on pools, ban­ning new con­struc­tion, pro­hibit­ing home­own­ers from re­fill­ing their aquatic play­grounds and re­quir­ing the use of cov­ers, pool in­dus­try records show.

But the in­dus­try is fight­ing back, send­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives to city coun­cils and wa­ter reg­u­la­tors with a sim­ple mes­sage: Swim­ming pools can use less wa­ter than grass and have got­ten an un­fair rap.

“The amount of wa­ter you need to wa­ter your lawn, that’s some­thing you can’t even en­vi­sion. But with a pool, it’s a big col­lec­tion of wa­ter sit­ting right there and so there’s a mis­per­cep­tion we’ve been bat­tling,” said John Nor­wood, pres­i­dent of the Cal­i­for­nia Pool and Spa Assn.

The as­so­ci­a­tion also launched a public ed­u­ca­tion cam­paign called Let’s Pool To­gether, which of­fers tips for pool own­ers to max­i­mize their wa­ter ef­fi­ciency.

“Pool own­ers are al­ready sav­ing wa­ter. But we can all do more!” the cam­paign’s web­site ex­plains.

There is much de­bate about whether pools are waste­ful.

Most wa­ter ex­perts say

that pools use roughly the same amount of wa­ter as a lawn of the same size. But pools also have decks, which use lit­tle or no wa­ter. And when own­ers use a cover to limit evap­o­ra­tion, a pool can use less wa­ter than turf.

An anal­y­sis last year by the Santa Mar­garita Wa­ter Dis­trict found that pools re­quire thou­sands of gal­lons of wa­ter to fill ini­tially, but they use about 8,000 gal­lons less wa­ter than a tra­di­tional land­scape af­ter that. By the third year, the anal­y­sis found, the sav­ings add up, and a pool’s cu­mu­la­tive wa­ter use falls be­low that of a lawn.

But con­ser­va­tion­ists say that pools are a luxury that the drought-stricken state can­not af­ford and that a yard full of drought-tol­er­ant land­scap­ing would use much less wa­ter than a pool.

“This is a pri­vate, per­sonal, recre­ational use,” said Con­ner Everts, fa­cil­i­ta­tor of the En­vi­ron­men­tal Wa­ter Cau­cus, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that pro­motes sus­tain­able wa­ter man­age­ment.

Pool re­stric­tions have cropped up in cities that are crack­ing down hard­est on wa­ter waste. For ex­am­ple, Santa Cruz re­cently en­acted strict wa­ter ra­tioning along with a ban on fill­ing or re­fill­ing pools.

Bev­erly Hills, which has a his­tory of high wa­ter us­age, must slash its con­sump­tion 36% un­der the state plan to meet Brown’s con­ser­va­tion goal. That city fi­nal­ized new wa­ter­ing rules in May that pro­hibit re­fill­ing pools, spas and ponds.

But in other places, of­fi­cials have shied from pool re­stric­tions af­ter learn­ing how lit­tle wa­ter would be saved.

City staff in Santa Bar­bara had rec­om­mended a mora­to­rium on new pools as part of more strin­gent wa­ter con­ser­va­tion ef­forts. But the City Coun­cil re­jected the mora­to­rium as more sym­bolic than prag­matic.

Joshua Hag­gmark, the city’s wa­ter re­sources manager, said the city only per­mits about 13 new pools a year. Still, he said, the sym­bolic ges­ture could have car- ried weight.

“It isn’t a lot of wa­ter in the big pic­ture, but it’s that per­cep­tion in the public,” he said.

Wa­ter pol­icy ex­perts said that in this stage of the drought, it is im­por­tant to give lo­cal agen­cies some flex­i­bil­ity to de­cide which re­stric­tions they want to im­pose.

“It’s not my sense that we’re at a stage where we have to com­pletely ban any use of wa­ter out­doors. It’s about be­ing smarter,” said Ellen Hanak, direc­tor of the Wa­ter Pol­icy Cen­ter of the Public Pol­icy In­sti­tute of Cal­i­for­nia. “In the case of a pool, be­ing smart means cov­er­ing it and not con­stantly re­fill­ing it.”

Peter Gle­ick, pres­i­dent of the Pa­cific In­sti­tute, an Oak­land en­vi­ron­men­tal think tank, said pools and lawns can no longer be con­sid­ered a ne­ces­sity.

“There are hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple in the Cen­tral Val­ley that don’t have safe drink­ing wa­ter,” Gle­ick said. “We can’t pre­tend we’re not in a drought any longer.”

Chris Carl­son As­so­ci­ated Press

HOMES WITH swim­ming pools bor­der the desert in Cathe­dral City. Ex­perts say pools gen­er­ally use no more wa­ter than a lawn of the same size, and one study has found that they can save wa­ter over the long run.

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