As California’s drought intensifies, industry professionals must do what they can to dispel myths about pools and water use. For one, explain that converting an area covered by lawn, left, into a pool with significant hardscape, right, can significantly reduce watering.
As California’s drought intensifies, industry professionals must do what they can to dispel myths about pools and water use. For one, explain that converting an area covered by lawn, left, into a pool with significant hardscape, right, can significantly reduce watering.

With California’s drought becoming more serious each day, swimming pools are coming under close scrutiny.

Many communities in the state are moving to Level Three drought restrictions, which often require a 50% reduction in outdoor landscape water use. This, unfortunately, has started conversations about limiting and, in some cases, eliminating new-pool filling or even permits.

Pool professionals, and builders in particular, can do five things to help prevent or minimize restrictions on pools, spas and water features.

1. Reach out to cities and counties.

Monitor the City Councils and other governmental bodies in the communities you serve. In many cases, they don’t reach out to the industry for input before imposing restrictions. See if drought mitigation is on the agenda of your City Council meetings. If so, prepare to speak.

Inform officials why permit and filling bans run counter to their objectives. Cities and counties are more likely to consider banning the filling of new pools as part of their response plans for severe drought conditions. However, the California Pool and Spa Association points out that during the four months it typically takes to construct a swimming pool, the area is not being irrigated. The water saved during construction is enough to fill a new pool, yielding net-zero water usage.

And when you put in a pool, you’re almost always building decking and unirrigated surfaces around it. You might take out a 2,000-square foot lawn and replace it with a 500 square-foot pool and 1,500 square feet of decking, walkways, and patios — none of which is irrigated. So the whole area uses less water than before.

Pools also contribute to local economies by supporting nearby businesses and creating jobs. One pool generates an average of $50,000 in purchases in the local community. Equipment might come from large companies, but the rest of that money goes directly into those communities where we’re working. We’re buying materials like stone, concrete, plants and lights from local businesses.

The California Pool & Spa Association offers other talking points to dispel the myth that pools and spas are water-wasters, and to show the value of the pool/spa industry to any community.

2. Practice water-saving design.

In addition to dispelling myths about pools and water usage, it benefits the industry to do what it can to minimize water usage of our products as much as possible. This not only helps prove our arguments, but also builds goodwill and demonstrates that the industry is a good citizen.

At any opportunity, design your pools and spas to use less water.

Sport-pool layouts, for instance, provide a popular option. These vessels are deeper in the middle, at 5- to 6 feet, with shallow water at both ends. There is no 7-to-8-foot deep end. While a shallower depth does not change the pool’s surface area or, therefore, the evaporation rate, it does take less water for the initial fill. This is a major consideration in local communities that consider bans on filling or even issuing permits.

Design waterfalls for minimal splash and evaporative loss. This includes measures to reduce splashout as much as possible. Baffles, for instance, contain splash and water migration. Additionally, avoid water features with a lot of surface area, such as rain curtains, which have high evaporation rates from the aeration. When incorporating these into your designs, simply reduce the run time during the hottest part of the day.

Include wind breaks around the water. Walls, screening and hedges help decrease evaporation by blocking wind that otherwise would blow over the water.

3. Promote water-saving products. Try to outfit pools with products that save water or prevent evaporation.

The most obvious solution is to design pools with motorized automatic covers. These can reduce evaporation by more than 95%.

At this time, many communities require builders to provide bubble covers and encourage clients to use them. I recommend that all pool contractors in drought-stricken areas not only provide bubble covers with every installation, but also cut them to size and provide a manual roller. This makes the covers more convenient, so they’re more likely to be used. More frequent placement of the covers will help save water, demonstrate goodwill, and potentially spare the industry from harmful restrictions.

Consider using cartridge filters, which only need a thorough rinsing rather than a water-wasting backwash. Additionally, the enlarged surface area minimizes cleaning frequency, saving more water.

4. Train your customers in water-saving practices.

When turning the pool over to the customer, take some time to educate them about day-to-day practices that can save water.

For instance, we recommend turning off the auto-fill unit for one week about every four months during drought conditions. While these systems add convenience, they also obscure leaks in the plumbing or pool shell by automatically filling up the water to compensate. Turning these units off every now and again helps pool owners to see how much water is being added regularly to the pool.

Pool owners also should use a timer when filling with a garden hose. We’ve all had a neighbor who leaves a hose in the pool and then forgets about it, overflowing patios and decks as precious water flows down the street into the gutters. A timer can prevent this.

To reduce evaporation through aeration, pool owners should schedule water features and waterfalls to run only when they are being enjoyed.

5. Join the industry effort.

It is urgent that California pool builders unite in our efforts to educate local communities that swimming pools are not water wasters.

We must show our strength in numbers and financially back the lobbyist team lead by Norwood and Associates. The California Pool and Spa Association ( needs more members and litigation support to combat the increasing number of restrictive measures being considered from municipality to municipality.

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