The Santa Margarita Water District today lifted its ban on filling pools. “This allows us to go back to building swimming pools, satisfying the requirements of homeowners who would like to enjoy the wonderful California life,” said Cecil Fraser, owner of Swan Pools in Lake Forest, who has been working with the water district since the restriction was declared. “And I think in the process we’ve demonstrated that a swimming pool is not a waste of water, but – with a cover -- it is one of the best uses of water in the backyard.”

In August, the SMWD, the second-largest water district in Orange County, Calif., imposed a ban on initial filling of pools and spas, as well as on topping off existing vessels by more than 1 foot. The restriction came despite the fact that the area currently is only in a Stage 2 drought.

The policy has taken its toll. "One of my competitors was at the meeting, and he said he used to get two to three calls each week from residents in that area, but he'd only gotten one call since [the restrictions]," Fraser said. "[Water district officials] were really quite sensitive to that issue."

The California Pool & Spa Association, in addition to affected builders such as Fraser, have negotiated with the water district to lighten or remove the restrictions, and made suggestions for other water-conservation measures that can be taken in the district.

This morning, the water district’s board decided to prolong the restrictions until a Stage 4 drought is declared. “They really are kind of pro-business, and they wanted to get the job done and done right,” Fraser said.

While the filling ban is still in effect on paper, industry professionals have been told they can receive a waiver until the change is made official. The water district is still figuring out the process for requesting and receiving the waiver.

Fraser hopes and believes that the SMWD's decision will have some influence on other water districts throughout the state. "Maybe the best news of all is they are wanting to be one of the more conservative and water-saving leaders in the state ...  and now that they’ve readjusted it to something that is, I think, correct, it may wash its way wider than just that water district," Fraser said.

The SMWD said it also would alter its drought guidelines to make certain recommendations for conserving water at Stage 2. Those recommendations will be fleshed out and presented at an Oct. 1 meeting. At that time, they also may discuss whether these water-conservation measures should be made mandatory if the drought reaches Stage 3. These recommendations, most of which were suggested by pool and spa professionals such as Fraser, include the use of covers, cartridge filters, specific autofill devices that would limit the amount of water added to a pool or spa each day, and weather-sensitive irrigation controls that would prevent excessive watering during cold or damp conditions.