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Drought Awareness Campaign Gaining Momentum

Since the beginning of 2014, the California Pool and Spa Association (CPSA) has been focused on creating a response on behalf of the pool and spa industry to proposed water use restrictions on filling newly constructed swimming pools or refilling pools that have been drained for repairs or remodeling. For the most part, such restrictions have been proposed and implemented by some of the more than 600 California water districts.  However, local public entities, building offices, the California Public Utilities Commission, various state agencies and the Governor all have an impact on the imposition of water use restrictions.

So, almost half way through 2014 and going into what will be a threshold summer for California’s severe drought, where are we with CPSA’s effort to defend the industry and its recovery from unwarranted water use restrictions?

In late January and early February, CPSA saw the initial water challenges with restrictions and new construction prohibitions being proposed in the greater Sacramento area.  Placer County Water Agency, Nevada Irrigation District, San Juan Water District and El Dorado County Water Agency all seemed to be in the process of developing proposals simultaneously.  Fortunately, a number of CPSA members in Sacramento were quick to get involved and request meetings with these agencies.  Talking points and presentations were developed with great input from the likes of Keith Harbeck of Premier Pools of Sacramento, Mike Geremia, President of CPSA and Geremia Pools and Dick and Alexa Dal Pino of Dal Pino Quality Pools. This information became the basis for the CPSA talking points and slide presentation which has now been used with water districts, the state Department of Resources, and the Association of California Water Agencies.  As part of these efforts, the CPSA launched the “Let’s Pool Together” campaign to educate the public on additional water saving tips besides owning a pool and to inform public policy makers that the pool industry is part of the solution to the drought, not the problem.  The work by CPSA members and the materials produced became the cornerstone of the campaign that can be found and accessed at the Let’s Pool Together website.

These early responses by CPSA members in conjunction with late heavy rain, which alleviated some of the severe water shortage in Northern California, resulted in success. Proposed restrictions on filling and refilling pools were not implemented nor were prohibitions on new home pool hook ups.

The next challenges came from the Alameda and Stockton water districts.  Alameda County Water District enacted a prohibition on refilling pools. As we looked into this action, CPSA discovered that the district included a process for exemptions for refills as a result of health and safety issues, required repairs and for other issues such as leaks and splitting main drains.  CPSA confirmed the application of the exception to the situations described in a follow up letter and was informed by Alameda County Water District that not a single exemption application has been turned down.

It was next reported to CPSA that Stockton water district also enacted a refill prohibition from June 1 to October 1.  CPSA followed up on this report to discover that the refill restriction was aimed at above ground pools and splash pools, not at in ground pools in need of repairs or remodeling.  The Association further discovered that the refill prohibition was nothing really new, that such a restriction was written into the city Municipal Code and was in effect every summer.  The Stockton Municipal Utilities Department also has an exemption process that pool builders and remodelers can utilize.  CPSA has reached out to the City of Stockton to see what can be done to alter their city charter to clarify the application of the refill restriction.  In the meantime, we encourage pool remodelers to utilize the district’s exemption process if there is any question relative to remodeling and refilling pools this summer.

Just recently it was reported to CPSA that San Jose Water Company had enacted a prohibition on filling or refilling pools in the service area.  It turns out that this prohibition is on the list of voluntary water conservation measures and there are no enforcement provisions applicable to this restriction.  However, as CPSA followed up on this issue we discovered that the same situation may well be applicable to up to 113 other water districts in California that are regulated by the California Public utilities Commission.

As we have noted in this and other articles, there are over 600 water districts in California. Most of these water districts have a local board of directors elected by the communities they serve.  However, there are 114 investor owned water districts in California and these districts are regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the rates these districts charge and the expenses they may apply.  The CPUC has a water regulation division with staff involved in the day to day regulation of these investor owned districts.  Early this year after Governor Brown declared a water emergency and urged all residents to cut water use by 20%, the CPUC staff opened proceedings and developed a list of water conservation suggestions that each of their regulated water districts could implement.  In order to demonstrate the districts commitment to save 20% of its prior use of water, each district was ordered to file a tariff with the CPUC indicating the water conservation measures they would implement.  As it turns out, most of these districts simply replicated the CPUC list of “suggestions” which included a fill and refill prohibition on swimming pools, even though the CPUC clearly indicated that the districts could alter the list of recommendations to fit local circumstances. Currently these water conservation measures are, in fact, voluntary. However, what worries the CPSA is that where circumstances change and the drought worsens, these water conservation measures can be made mandatory.

As such, CPSA has engaged with the CPUC to discuss reconsidering the prior proceeding to remove the restrictions on filling or refilling swimming pools as these restrictions are not supported by facts and are contrary to the Governor’s most recent emergency proclamation aimed primarily at outdoor water use.  Of the 114 investor owned water agencies, 100 are very small with only 500 connections, 5 of these agencies have 2,000 or more connections and only 9 have 10,000 or more connections. The list of water districts regulated by the CPUC can be accessed by clicking here.

The only other water restrictions on filling or refilling pool that CPSA is aware of are in areas like Santa Cruz and Monticello where water shortages are so severe that available water is a health and safety issue.  In these situations, no water is being allowed for landscaping or other outside purposes. So, it is difficult to argue the potable water supply should be used to fill or refill swimming pools.  In these rare circumstances, the only argument is that pool builders should be able to truck-in water from other sources.

CPSA’s Let’s Pool Together campaign appears to have been very successful thus far. The association has developed a good working relationship with the state’s “Save Our Water” campaign, which is being jointly managed by the Association of California Water Agencies and the State Department of Water Resources.  Each association’s Internet page features the others campaign as a partner.  This cross marketing is helping to get the word out to water districts across the state that the facts do not support restricting the use of water to fill and refill swimming pools.  Nonetheless, it is the beginning of summer and 100 plus degree days are now appearing regularly, which will certainly challenge the already severe water shortages throughout the state.

The Association is continuing to monitor the activities of California’s water districts and is doing everything possible to help educate public policy leaders of the true facts about water use by swimming pools and the economic consequences of shutting down this industry in California.  As part of these efforts, the CPSA has assembled a database of California water districts and the management of these districts.  We are in the process of sending letters to each of these districts explaining the facts about water use by swimming pools and spas that includes the materials produced by the Let’s Pool Together campaign to promulgate awareness and demonstrate the industry is part of the solution.  After the letters have been distributed, the CPSA will contact each district and work with them to engage local press.  This will truly solidify the reach of the campaign and serve as a preemptive measure to demonstrate how little water pools use before larger discussions on the topic occur.