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Why swimming pools are getting a break despite unprecedented water restrictions in Southern California

Hayley Smith, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

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

As with nearly every other facet of the rollout, the agencies affected by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California's urgent call for conservation are each taking a slightly different tack as they implement water conservation plans.

While most are limiting outdoor watering to one or two days a week, many said the rules governing pools will remain largely unchanged — at least for the time being. That's left some residents scratching their heads and others complaining of mixed messaging during a time of worsening drought.

"There seems to be a discrepancy between outdoor watering restrictions and the ability to keep pools filled," said Alhambra resident Chase Andre, 35. "Water is a public utility, but private pools are not. If we recognize that the drought is affecting our water supply enough to limit watering plants and lawns, it seems reasonable to consider how private pools might be working against our collective conservation efforts."

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

"Pools use very little water and, as such, there is no basis in fact or science that would indicate that banning the filling of swimming pools would have anything but a de minimis impact on water conservation," the letter said.


According to the association's government relations officer, John Norwood, a new swimming pool requires an average of 14,000 to 18,000 gallons of water to fill, amounting to "a fraction of 1% of the city's annual water use" when taken as the sum of all new pool permits annually.

Pools and their surrounding hardscaping also save water over time, Norwood said, because they often take the place of thirsty lawns — "thus saving the water that used to be used to irrigate what the pool replaces."

"There is simply no evidence that such a restriction saves any water, especially over the long term," he said.

But for some residents, those calculations don't always make sense.


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