I’ve always heard that local professionals play a vital role in combatting water restrictions. But when you see it firsthand, you really understand. These are scary times in California. As I write this, I’ve just watched a meeting of the Santa Barbara City Council, which considered banning pool permits. It's just one of several cities considering the move.
Observing online, I noted things both heartening and kind of scary.
First the scary: The industry has more working against it than simple misinformation. The Santa Barbara city staffers who recommended the permit ban admitted the move was purely symbolic and would represent a less-than-1-percent water savings in the city. But they believed it would send an important message. If the guy across the street fills his pool, they said, citizens would think there’s plenty of water and resent having to take shorter showers. And the city generates revenue from water so, under pressure to balance good citizenship with income, they weren’t ready to ban lawn watering.
Now the heartening: Industry advocacy efforts made an obvious difference. It was clear that city officials had been briefed ahead of time with materials from the California Pool & Spa Association. They were receptive and understood. Most opposed the idea of making a purely symbolic gesture. If a citizen calls to complain about the allowance for pool filling, one said, then explain why.
Furthermore, they noted, the city should not target industries in the struggle to save water, especially when the net gain is so much less than the potential loss to the local economy.
Equally important to the outcome was the turnout of industry professionals at the meeting. They obviously had studied the available research before they calmly and professionally informed officials what we in the industry know about pools and water use. They accomplished a lot in the two minutes allowed per speaker.
With pros in attendance, the mayor and council members could ask questions as they mulled possibilities. In one case, a city councilor proposed allowing pools, but only if they're outfitted with automatic covers — no manual. Another official said he needed more information and asked for a professional to come to the microphone and say how much such a stipulation would cost consumers. After an industry rep answered the question, the idea was scrapped.
And, incidentally, one official wondered why nobody showed up to represent the car-washing industry, which also faced restrictions.
The good news: Permits are still allowed in Santa Barbara. The even better news is that the industry has made huge strides in its decades-long efforts to debunk myths about pools and water usage.
The bad news: Professionals in other cities are still getting caught off guard.
It’s vital that industry professionals take on the responsibility of monitoring their city councils and water districts to gain a heads-up when restrictions are being considered. If there’s a potential change on the books, contact CPSA and show up to meetings. It makes a difference.
Here are some tips for working with local government.
PSN Editor Joanne McClain returns to this space next issue.