For now, pools avoid most drought restrictions

As millions of Southern Californians brace for new drought restrictions beginning June 1, a big blue question mark remains: How will the rules apply to swimming pools?

As with nearly every other facet of deployment, the agencies involved in the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s Urgent Conservation Appeal each take a slightly different approach when implementing water conservation plans.

While most limit outdoor watering to one or two days a week, many said the rules governing swimming pools would remain largely unchanged, at least for now. It left some residents scratching their heads and others complaining of mixed messages during a period of worsening drought.

“There seems to be a disconnect between outdoor watering restrictions and the ability to keep pools filled,” said Alhambra resident Chase Andre, 35. “Water is a public utility, but private swimming pools are not. If we recognize that drought is affecting our water supply enough to limit watering plants and lawns, it seems reasonable to examine how swimming pools privacy could harm our collective conservation efforts.

Not everyone agrees. In a letter to the Municipal Water District of Las Virgenes — an MWD member agency that serves customers in Calabasas, Agoura Hills and other nearby areas — the California Pool and Spa Assn. Prohibiting the filling of swimming pools would be, “at most, a symbolic gesture”.

“Swimming pools use very little water and as such there is no factual or scientific basis to suggest that banning the filling of pools would have anything other than a de minimis impact on water conservation. ‘water’, the letter reads.

According to the association’s government relations manager, John Norwood, a new swimming pool requires an average of 14,000 to 18,000 gallons of water to fill, which equates to “a fraction of 1% of the annual consumption of city ​​water” when taken as the sum of all new pool permits each year.

Swimming pools and their surrounding hardscapes also save water over time, Norwood said, as they often replace parched lawns – “thereby saving water that was used to irrigate what the pool is replacing. “.

“There is simply no evidence that such a restriction saves water, especially in the long term,” he said.

But for some residents, these calculations don’t always make sense.

“It looks really bad when you read about houses with five swimming pools and big, wide green lawns that continue to be able to water while we are in restrictions,” resident Michael Margolis said during the interview. last week’s public meeting with Las Virgenes, adding that it’s not just state supplies, but also federal supplies from the Colorado River that are dangerously low.

Some area water agencies are taking steps to regulate swimming pools, but many, including the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, stop at pool cover recommendations.

“During Phase 3, you will be able to fill your pool, but it is strongly recommended that you use a pool cover to prevent evaporation when the pool is not in use,” DWP spokeswoman Ellen Cheng said. . “This will significantly reduce evaporation from your pool.”

Cheng said the next highest phase, Phase 4, would mandate covering residential swimming pools, while Phase 5 would prohibit filling them with water.

Yet, she says, “we ask our customers to reduce their water consumption whenever possible. The more water we save, the longer these limited supplies will last.

The phases apply to residential and commercial customers, Cheng added, so community pools will be subject to the same rules.

The Municipal Water District of Las Virgenes is also asking residents to consider using a pool cover as it rolls out its plan to reduce outdoor water use by 50%, a said spokesman Mike McNutt.

McNutt said pools are already factored into outdoor water budgets, which means those with full pools should be able to keep them that way. Residents building new pools should alert the district, he said, and those planning to empty and refill pools for repairs or other reasons are asked to postpone “until this emergency is over”.

He also acknowledged that adapting to stringent conservation requirements is a process that will force all Southern Californians to reconsider their relationship with water.

“Behavioral changes take time — sometimes a very long time,” McNutt said. “The problem is that time is not on our side. Climate change is here, and we are all adapting to it right now. Planning and adaptation are on the same timeline. We are obliged to do them simultaneously.

Other agencies go even further, including some retailers who purchase supplies from MWD members.

Ventura County Public Works, which receives water from the Municipal Water District of Calleguas, prohibits filling new residential pools and filling existing pools with more than one foot of water, according to its website. (Residents who already have approved permits for new pools and spas are exempt.)

But the neighboring water and sanitation district of Triunfo, which also receives water from Calleguas, does not include swimming pools in its current Stage 1 ordinance. However, it says it will ban “the filling or filling of any new or existing residential swimming pool” in step 2.

Others follow similar patterns. The Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District “has no specific restrictions on new pool construction, repairs or refilling,” spokeswoman Patty Cortez said, but allows each of its agencies members to establish rules at the local level.

One of those agencies, Golden State Water Co. — a provider for the state’s water-dependent areas in Claremont and Simi Valley — does not mention swimming pools in its current order calling for a 20% reduction and watering one day a week. Instead, guests will be required to “manage all uses (indoor and outdoor, including swimming pools) to avoid the [overuse] supplement,” chief executive Benjamin Lewis wrote via email.

The San Bernardino-based MWD member Inland Empire Utilities Agency also leaves it up to local retailers to choose their own course of action. This could include “partial or complete bans on using hoses to wash paved areas, limits on washing cars and filling or filling swimming pools, and restrictions on watering times,” the city said. IEUA spokesperson, Andrea Carruthers.

Some people like Alhambra resident Andre hope officials will take this responsibility to heart. Although he lives in a condo where his outdoor water use is already limited, he said he plans to buy water-saving showerheads to reduce his indoor use.

And while he enjoyed community pools with his kids, he encouraged “leaders to keep finding ways to do more.”

“When I think of water conservation, I don’t think of taking water from my neighbors but leaving water for my children,” he said. “It may be that the weather changes, or that new technologies are developed, and that our water supply returns. But until that happens, what kind of Los Angeles do we want our children to inherit? »

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