Fdecomite, Flickr

In what many believe to be a first, the water provider for Scottsdale, Ariz., is offering a rebate to homeowners who fill their pools and spas with dirt.

For more than 20 years, city-owned Scottsdale Water has offered a rebate to those who get rid of their lawns. As of July 1, they have extended the same offer to those who remove their pools and/or spas.

“We have been very aggressive with water conservation over the years,” said Nicole Sherbert, public information officer for Scottsdale Water. “This was just a natural extension of that.”

The city revamped its rebate program to increase the dollar amounts offered and to include more adjustments, such as replacing older toilets with more efficient ones or with urinals, and adding more efficient showerheads.

For the pool rebate, homeowners who qualify will receive 50 cents per square foot of pool or spa taken out, with a maximum of $1,500. After the waterscape is removed, homeowners must cover exposed soil with a material such as crushed granite to reduce evaporation.

The city chose to offer this rebate at the request of consumers, Sherbert said, and after consulting research about the water use of pools and spas. “What we found in our research is that turf uses about the same amount of water that pools evaporate,” Sherbert said.

The Phoenix-area pool industry learned of the move when everybody else did, through the local media. Members of the local APSP chapter have arranged for a meeting with the utility. No doubt, they will discuss industry research and studies, which suggest that pools and spas use less water than lawn and, perhaps, even drought-resistant plants — particularly if certain pool covers are used.

“Mostly [the meeting] would be to share information at this point,” said Michael J. Dennis, vice president of APSP’s Central Arizona Chapter, and CEO of Scottsdale-based X-Pools. “We would like to initiate a dialogue.”

Representatives from APSP’s national office and the California Pool & Spa Association, which has spent the last few years addressing drought-related water restrictions, are helping plan and provide information.

The concern for the industry goes beyond the prospect of individual pools being taken out of commission, local professionals say. They worry that the rebate sends a negative message about pool and spa ownership. “It sends the signal to people that pools are bad, that pools are water wasters, and we’ve already proven that there’s not a shred of fact to that statement,”said John Norwood, CPSA executive director. “If you don’t challenge the statement, it becomes reality.”

And with several other water providers throughout the state offering similar rebates for lawn removal, they hope to eliminate the potential for others to duplicate the incentive.

Scottsdale Water isn’t aiming to see all pools removed from the city, Sherbert said. “We are just looking at every option that we can to encourage water conservation here in the desert,” she said.

Demolition contractors may jump at the opportunity. At least one such firm is promoting the rebate and making a case for removing pools. On its website, Phoenix-based Van’s Hauling & Tractor Work states that pool operating costs have increased so much in the past five years that it now costs more than $2,500 annually, before repairs. Removing the pool, the company says, might raise the home’s selling price and will make the yard safer. Additionally, the company claims demolition would cost 60- to 70 percent less than a pool renovation.

Between 2005 and 2015, Sherbert said, rebates covered 1.7 million square feet of turf removal.