California’s Unprecedented Drought It’s an overcast Wednesday morning in mid-March 2015. I’m sipping my coffee on this grey morning and staring out the window of my kitchen – gazing outside at the soggy ground and beaded up water on one of our service trucks that’s still parked in the drive way – all evidence of an over-night rain. You think to yourself….that’s normal for spring in Northern California…where are you going with this? Sadly, it’s not normal…not anymore. It’s grounds for a celebration these days! Having lived here for most of my life, I can remember as a kid (in the not-so-distant past, thank you very much) when the rains’ would begin in January and not end until the end of April. They would turn our foot hills that surround the delta and valley from a dry tan to gorgeous spring green. Seeing them as an adult living and working in the Bay Area would spark nostalgia in me of being a little girl hiking them at Black Diamond Mines or going for long drives with my parents through Marsh Creek Road as we would head out of town. These days, the landscape is brown, brittle and so very dry; has been for some time except when these wonderful spring sprinkles visit us.
We are in the midst of unprecedented drought in the wonderful State of California. Meaning we have never seen the likes of this in the states’ history. The US drought water monitor shows the majority of the state is in category D4 which is classified as “Exceptional Drought” affecting 37,003, 598 people. Many of our customers are concerned, and I can understand why. They are pool owners who are a breed of their own. They really love their pools. They enjoy having their children, grandchildren, friends and/or family over to enjoy them with. In their opinion, an afternoon’s spent playing in the pool that ends with an early evening BBQ simply can’t be beat. Summer time pool parties, graduations or even having the neighborhood kids over are what they live for. They believe there is nothing better than enjoying the long days and nights of summer in California in a refreshing pool with those you love. It’s a life style that is cherished by a lot of folks. Unfortunately, California pool owners are at the forefront in the battle between the local water districts regulations and well-meaning efforts to conserve and the very real and grim reality that the water is simply running out without very much hope in sight of relief from mother nature. According to NOAA, the US Seasonal Drought Outlook is predicted to last through 2015. We knew this was coming. It’s a tough pill to swallow.
When False Perceptions About Pools and Water Usage are used to Inform Public Policy It’s seems like every day I read yet another story on my news feed of a city or water district that is being forced to purchase water to meet the needs of its constituents, impose water restrictions and rate hikes and other controls on their customers water usage in order to mitigate the effects and lessen consumption. The Dublin San Ramon Service District has just recently announced their need to purchase over $2 million dollars of water from Sacramento and Yuba county to meet their supplemental water usage needs. As a pool owner, you start to think hard about what this will mean for you in the future. There has been a lot of misinformation about a pools water usage and the impact a pool has on the existing drought. In an article dating back to March 2014, John Norwood, president of the California Pool & Spa Association stated, “As a result of the dry conditions, once again, pools and spas have become a target. Since the beginning of the year, talk of water restrictions seemed to go from nonexistent to the front pages”. He went on to say, “Some media outlets have begun to advocate bans on filling pools, while others tell stories of well-intentioned homeowners demolishing their leaking vessels. This has led industry members to recall past droughts, when false perceptions about pools and water usage would inform public policy. In some cities, that has already begun to occur. At least five municipalities, including Sacramento, Folsom and Roseville, are restricting water use or withholding permits on new construction and renovations. “There’s more to come,” Norwood said. “It’s easy. It’s like, ‘We’re not going to let restaurants serve water unless asked, and we’re not going to let people fill pools.’ But they have no idea how much water this saves or how much water is used. …” Again, as a pool owner, you start to think hard about what this will mean for you in the future. Knowledge and information is power and key to ensuring effective conservation efforts are employed. The more you inform the public and pool owners on what they can do to conserve the better chance we collectively have at making an impact in the reduction of overall water usage. But what are the facts? What can be done?
The Fact’s About a Pool’s Impact on the drought Swimming pools use less water than your lawn: In an article in the LA times titled “Water agencies are learning pools aren’t a big factor during drought”, Matt Stevens reports that, “As California’s drought worsens, swimming pools have become a target for those who think the classic backyard oasis wastes water. Some water districts have prohibited new pools from being filled and have limited how much water existing pools can use. But some of those agencies are walking back the rules as they make a surprising discovery: Pools aren’t the water wasters some have made them out to be. Analyses by various water districts, along with scientific studies, conclude that pools and their surrounding hardscapes use about the same amount of water as a lawn of the same size. Over time, pools might even use less water. With pool covers, experts say water evaporation can be cut by almost half, making pools significantly less wasteful than grass and about as efficient as drought-tolerant landscaping. Facing complaints over a recent ban on filling pools, the Santa Margarita Water District conducted its own water-use analysis. It found that pools require thousands of gallons of water to fill initially, but they use about 8,000 gallons less water than a traditional landscape after that. By the third year, the analysis found, the savings add up, and a pool’s cumulative water use falls below that of a lawn. Water agencies such as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power have come to similar conclusions. A properly maintained spa or pool uses significantly less water in a season than watering a lawn of the same size. Here are some more facts from the ASPS on the comparative use of pools versus residential lawn care:
- Watering a typical residential lawn requires 180 gallons each time it’s watered.
- Up to 90 percent of the water used to sprinkle lawns on hot days is lost to evaporation.
- An untended garden hose can use 600 gallons or more in just a few hours — enough to fill one and a half spas!
The ASPS also found that comparative pool water usage to other common household water usage is as follows:
- Properly maintained spa water needs to be replaced only two to three times a year and can be reused for landscape watering when drained. In a pool, one filling lasts decades. In fact, draining a pool is so unusual the process usually requires a professional.
- Baths use water once. A spa offers 4 to 6 months of use for the same water. Taking just five baths, at 80 gallons each (normal tub size), uses enough water to fill a typical 400-gallon spa. Filling and draining a bathtub twice a week for four months uses 2,720 gallons of water. A spa uses the same 400 gallons of water continuously throughout those four months.
- A jetted or whirlpool bathtub used twice a week consumes 240 gallons. In just 4 months these tubs use about the same amount of water as most pools use in an entire season.
- Operated correctly, pools conserve water in a clean and useful state:
- There is a lot of evidence that point s to the fact that pools do in fact conserve water, especially when properly maintained and cared for. Furthermore, it’s be found that “Pools can be tapped as emergency sources of water, especially when fighting fires — but only if they are maintained”, states Craig Sears, president of Sears Pool Management in Sandy Springs, Ga. This is an important fact that cannot be overlooked, especially with the pending El Nino conditions that are predicted in 2015. The dry conditions caused by the drought means our state is being ravaged and plagued with wild fires. Having access to the available pool water supply can make a difference.
- Unmaintained bodies of water quickly become health hazards, breeding bacteria and disease-carrying mosquitos:
- We found this out when the economy took a turn for the worse causing the real estate market in Northern California to nearly implode In Contra Costa County the sheer amount of vacant, foreclosed homes were staggering. The amount of pools that were not being maintained was causing a huge public health issue in the area. It is believed that it set the stage for The West Nile Virus to crop up as a result and created a huge burden on the county’s already strained resources to fight the issues caused by the growing vector problem. To impose sanctions that would leave pools to simply languish without taking into account the full environmental impact doesn’t make a lot of sense.
What Can Swimming Pool Owners do to Conserve? We have found that many of our customers are not only motivated by the monetary and legislative measures to conserve but also truly want to do the right thing and help in any way they can. Again, we believe that information and knowledge is power and key in getting us all through the drought. Here is what we recommend to our customers based on water conservation guidelines set forth by the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals:
How to make the most of your pool and/or spa water:
- Cover-up! A properly maintained spa or pool cover is an important safety element and can also reduce evaporation and water waste by 95%. For pools, a safety cover or a solar cover also has the added benefit of helping to heat the pool. A floating cover under the spa cover will prevent additional evaporation and retain heat. For maximum effectiveness, replace spa covers every three years.
- Be vigilant. Correct any leaks or service problems as they occur. Don’t waste water by letting it leak away. (Check out our leak detection page for information on how to perform the bucket test and other signs of a leaking swimming pool.)
- Maintain your spa. Proper spa maintenance will greatly increase the time between draining and refilling. Cleaning filters regularly according to manufacturer’s directions will extend spa cleanliness.
- Maintain your pool and pool filtration systems.
- Use an automatic pool cleaner to maintain pool water. Some pool cleaners do not send debris through the filtration system helping to reduce the need to backwash.
- Proper maintenance of pool water reduces the frequency of backwashing. Replace your aging sand or DE filtering system with a cartridge filter that does not require backwashing and saves water.
- Additional maintenance tips for both pools and spas:
- Remove debris that blows in from trees and landscaping. Low-tech tools are available from your retailer to make it easier to keep water clean.
- Rinse bathing suits out with clear water rather than washing with soap. Soap powder residue is a major contributor to poor water quality.
- If it’s clean, don’t drain! Drain spas and pools only when you have a water quality problem. Water only needs to be changed in a spa 2-3 times a year if you maintain your spa properly and it incorporates new water cleaning technology. Pools only need to be drained if repairs require it.
- Re-use. When you do drain your spa, let it sit open for 48-72 hours with no new chemicals added, and then use the water on garden plants. Or, ask your retailer about products that neutralize chemicals. To prevent unsupervised use, remember to make sure that proper safety barriers are in place any time that the spa safety cover is removed.
- Recycle! Use captured rainwater to replace water lost to evaporation in spas and pools or to refill a spa.
- Spas manufactured in the last five years have new technology cleaning systems that keep the water clean much longer — up to six months without refilling. This new technology is also available for some older models. Your spa dealer can advise you whether you can add this technology to your spa.
In closing, we believe that having an informed population of pool owners and swimming pool and spa enthusiasts in key and vital in conserving our precious natural resournce. If you have any questions or would like to learn more tips on water conservation as a pool owner in California please call us at (925) 849-6545!
Pinnacle Pool and Spa Services