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Santa Margarita Water District Invites Public Opinion on Swimming Pool Restrictions

Ready for more water news?  We seem to be turning into a water blog here, but hey, that’s what happens when your local town is at the center of precedent-setting water rate litigation and your state is in the midst of a drought that ranks somewhere between “historic” and “catastrophic.”

So we recently wrote about the then-proposed mandatory water conservation measures being considered by the Santa Margarita Water District.  That article is here.  SMWD subsequently passed those measures, and they have since attracted national media attention and scrutiny.  The one issue that seems to have generated the most controversy and criticism is the restrictions on filling swimming pools.

An article in the OC Register provides another example of this criticism:

“The Southern California lifestyle is defined by housing in the suburbs and (is) completed with swimming pools,” said Cecil Fraser, who owns Swan Pools in Lake Forest and has built more than 500 pools within Santa Margarita’s district. “Banning swimming pools means you literally shut down our industry.”

Fraser has asked the board to rescind the ordinance.

There also will be a ripple effect, pool industry advocates said. Halting new pool construction means fewer opportunities for pool cleaners and stores that sell items for maintenance and poolside furniture, said John Norwood, chief of government affairs for the California Pool and Spa Association, a lobbying group.

And further:

“Contrary to what most people believe, a pool doesn’t use much water,” Norwood said.  A swimming pool with a deck area 1 1/2 times the size of the pool uses less than half the water required to maintain a lawn of the same size, he said. Savings grow larger by increasing the deck area and using a bubble cover to avoid loss from evaporation.

Now, residents and others will have an opportunity to address the SMWD Board directly on the subject and make their voices heard.  According to the District’s Facebook page:

Santa Margarita Water District directors will discuss the clause that prohibits new pools during the drought at their September 19 meeting. Come out and share your thoughts! We appreciate the issue has generated so much thoughtful discussion on the drought and good water-use policy.

We have a feeling that by inviting public input, the Santa Margarita Water District is expressing a willingness to walk back the swimming pool restrictions, especially since they are not required under California’s emergency regulations.  According to the Register article, “pool builders claim that the Santa Margarita Water District’s restriction goes well beyond what’s required by the state’s emergency regulation, which doesn’t mention pools. Norwood said other water agencies also may implement similar pool restrictions if drought becomes more severe, but the district’s strict regulation is unusual at this stage.”  This might be a case of too much, too fast.

For the record, in case there are any Santa Margarita Water District officials reading this blog, here is our position on this matter:

We encourage the Santa Margarita Water District to rescind the swimming pool restrictions for the following reasons:

  • The swimming pool restriction erroneously assumes that a swimming pool uses more water than a similarly sized patch of irrigated grass or landscaping — this is not necessarily true, a pool may actually use less water than an irrigated yard or landscape.
  • The negative impact to the local economy and the swimming pool industry from essentially banning new pool construction for an indefinite period of time far outweighs the water conservation, if any, that might be obtained.
  • The swimming pool restriction goes beyond what the State of California currently requires and unfairly penalizes residents in the Santa Margarita Water District in a way that residents of other water service areas are not penalized.
  • Empty and half-empty swimming pools are a blight and a safety hazard.

If you are interested in having your opinion heard on this issue, please attend the September 19th meeting at the Santa Margarita Water District.

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