It is said that nothing brings people together like a common enemy and pool and spa professionals demonstrated this principle in a big way when responding to the current drought.
The industry found itself witha target on its back because of misperceptions regarding how much water is used by pools and spas. In California, because of the industry working together, negative press and disproportionately strict water restrictions have largely been mitigated, at least during this stage of the drought.
And, while industry associations, such as the California Pool and Spa Association, have proven invaluable in bringing their policy and government expertise to the table, it isn’t possible without industry volunteers to help implement the plans.
“I can’t say enough about it — it’s invaluable,” says CPSA President Mike Geremia, also president of Geremia Pools in Sacramento, Calif.
In these efforts, volunteers have been an integral part of the mix, not only to supply more bodies to do the work, but also to accomplish the right combination of advocacy expertise and personal touch. When it comes time to sit down at the table and discuss the nuts and bolts of policy proposals, water districts and government agencies want to speak with a professional representative, says Cecil Fraser, owner of Swan Pools in Lake Forest, Calif., who worked with the CPSA to mitigate a permit ban that had been declared this year by one Orange County, Calif., water district.
“They would talk to me, and they were wonderful, but they wanted to send their recommendations for regulation to CPSA,” Fraser says. “So it dawned on me how important that really is, that you have representation in government.”
But in many cases, getting the ear of officials requires a firsthand account of how proposed legislative actions affect the industry, its businesses and consumers. That’s why CPSA likes having five to seven professionals present at public meetings to show unity.
“When you are familiar with the area’s economy, marketplace and workforce, you can have a more productive discussion with the agency representatives, especially if you are a reputable company that is looked at as a business leader — you have good business practices, you’re a steady employer, you bring a lot to the community for enrichment besides just your business,” says Alexa Dal Pino, president of Dal Pino Pools in Auburn, Calif., whose volunteer work in dealing with the California drought has included attending meetings and reviewing marketing materials.
Having pool and spa professionals in attendance adds a more personal touch. “It hits home with those [officials] because they’re local,” Geremia says. “The water boards know that they are affecting not just water usage but people who have families and employees and who are part of the community. So that really does make a difference.”
Other volunteers have taken their involvement further, whether it’s managing fundraising campaigns, compiling data to reinforce the industry’s message, fine-tuning marketing materials to make sure they remain on message, or talking to the press.
Builder Keith Harbeck, for instance, played a crucial role in providing information to water agencies and the press. He gathered statistics and compiled them into a presentation to demonstrate two key points: that pools and spas use less water than lawns; and that the pool and spa industry is a vital one employing thousands of citizens. In addition, he is a member of a local water district’s drought awareness committee that meets to discuss and fine-tune policies and propose ways to conserve water.
“You want to continue to be helpful and always be part of the solution and not the problem for the water districts, instead of just screaming when you think we’re being needlessly singled out,” Harbeck says. “If we can get engaged and get people to know us [and that we’re] thinking about all these issues, I think it’s helpful.”
But industry professionals have also let the awareness about water conservation spill into their business models. For example, companies have sprung up that have developed methods of filtering and reusing pool water rather than draining it, whether to allow for replaster, repair or just to get the total dissolved solids down.
For the head of one of these companies, the idea is very simple.
“If you don’t have any way of getting more water and you have water, then you’ve got to work at keeping what you have,” says Jerry Gilbert, of Pool Water Purification Inc., in Lake Havasu City, Ariz.
That’s why his company has been focusing on making its product more efficient. A couple years ago, his filtration system on wheels saw a 20-to-25-percent waste factor when performing the process. Gilbert and his partner, Rick Lathrop, continue to fine-tune it, so now they have about a 10-percent rate of waste, and are aiming for 5 percent or less.
“Every gallon that you can keep, you’ve got to do it,” Gilbert says. “We knew this conservation issue was coming, so we wanted to throw away the least amount in processing. From a conservation standpoint that’s important.”
The professionals involved with these efforts do continue to be frustrated that more don’t participate, even if simply by joining and contributing to the associations that represent the industry to water agencies and government entities at managing regulation.
The effort is worth it, they say, not only in terms of the concrete results.
“It helps create this unity that normally isn’t there among competitors,” Geremia says.