As the specter of water restrictions looms in California, professionals are trying to assess the economic impact such measures could have on the industry.

California has experienced one of its driest years on record, with northern areas particularly hard hit. While recent rains have helped a bit, some businesses are being affected.

Contractors report renovation has been hurt most. “The [consumer’s] mind-set is, ‘Well, I can just wait another year,’” said Rob Burkett, president of Burkett’s Pool Plastering in Ripon, Calif., about an hour east of San Jose.

Burkett said this mentality has led to a decrease in leads. “The last four years, our leads have grown every month,” he reported. “This year they’re off 30 percent [from] last year.”

In addition to reluctant consumers, the industry also is concerned about the effects of possible water restrictions, especially a ban on filling pools.

One builder has compiled data to show that the economic impact far outweighs any water savings.

Keith Harbeck, president of Premier Pools in Rancho Cordova, Calif., looked at permit numbers and estimated that his region (Sacramento) would build 1,200 pools this year. At an average cost of $50,000 per project, the industry would generate approximately $60 million in construction revenue, not including the service and retail business gained from the new pools.

The loss of those 1,200 pools would not only affect the private sector, but also would mean a $1.5 million reduction in revenue for local government in building permit fees, Harbeck estimated.

He then sought to demonstrate how much water would be saved by preventing the filling of those pools, and estimated the number to be 66.3 acre feet. Dividing $60 million by 66.3 shows that the pools would provide over $900,000 per acre foot of water for the economy.

By comparison, an acre foot of water used for wine production reportedly yielded about $1,500 in 2001, the latest year for which Harbeck found data.

To further make the point, Harbeck looked at inflow, or the rate at which water enters a reservoir in his locality. He wanted to see how long it would take for the reservoirs to fill the 1,200 pools. He found two rates — one based on the past 30 days and another taken during a set of storms in early February. Using the more conservative first number of 5.52 acre feet per minute, and factoring in the average pool capacity of 18,000 gallons, Harbeck estimated that all pools built in Sacramento metro this year could be filled by 12 minutes’ worth of inflow. When he applied the second number, which showed that 33.26 acre feet of water flowed in during the heavy storms, he found that it would only take two minutes.

Next came the comparison of water usage between pools and lawns. With 1,200 pools per year holding an average of 18,000 gallons, plus 14,000 gallons per year in makeup water, Harbeck estimated each pool uses about 30,000 gallons in the year it’s built, much less in subsequent years.

Finding out the water usage for lawns was difficult because there is little agreement on this figure. Harbeck used 37 gallons per square foot, a number reported in the Sacramento Bee, which fell in the midrange among estimates. He figured that the average pool with decking displaces 1,200 square feet of yard. That much lawn uses approximately 44,000 gallons, Harbeck calculated. That means, he said, that a pool and accompanying deck save 12,000 gallons the year it is filled, and 30,000 gallons each year after.

The 1,200 pools combined would save 14.4 million gallons the year they are filled, and 36 million every year thereafter.

Harbeck laid out his information in a Power Point presentation, which he shared with the California Pool & Spa Association and other pool professionals.

In presenting the data to water districts, Harbeck has found officials receptive and concerned, and he hopes this will convince them not to restrict pool filling.

“Sometimes we feel picked on because we’re perceived as a luxury item, and that we could just be done away with and it wouldn’t really hurt anybody,” Harbeck said. “I don’t think it is malicious. I think people just don’t understand. If we can make the facts known so they’ll understand the industry better, it’ll go a long way toward solving this problem. But nobody’s going to get that message out for us.”