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CPSA Submits Comments on Proposed Building Ordinance

“Backyards consisting of a traditional grass play area and a swimming pool could be a thing of the past if the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance is enacted as proposed,” according to John Norwood, President of the California Pool and Spa Association.

Last week the California Pool and Spa Association submitted comments to the California Building Standards Commission (CBSC) regarding the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance.  CBSC is considering changes proposed by the Department of Water Resources to MWELO, which would then become part of the building code in California.  CPSA urged CBSC to reject the adoption of the proposed Ordinance because the Ordinance is still unclear as to the Ordinance’s application to single family residences.

A problem with communicating CPSA’s concerns to entities such as the CBSC has been that single family residential owner installed pools, spas and hot tubs have always been excluded from MWELO based on the threshold requirements established by regulations.  Unfortunately these thresholds have either been removed or drastically changed with this newest revision and it is unclear at best whether installation of pools, spas and hot tubs in residential backyards would be regulated by MWELO.

CPSA found two key issues that we believe the CBSC needs to address before adopting the new Ordinance.  First, when does the Ordinance apply to homeowners? And second, does the effect of application of the Ordinance unfairly discriminate against the swimming pool and spa industry?

For the first concern, the application of MWELO is unclear for a new single family home that a homeowner has built or purchased from a developer where the landscaping has not been installed by the developer.  The amendments strike the current provision which specifically applies to owner provided or hired improvements.  The new definitions include “new development project” with a 500 square foot threshold and “rehabilitated landscape” with a 2,500 square foot threshold.  Neither of these definitions is clear whether they apply to landscapes and other improvements like swimming pools, spas and hot tubs in single family homes.  Without additional clarification CPSA believes the proposed Ordinance is subject to inconsistent interpretation by building officials throughout the state, thus making application of the Ordinance unclear and ambiguous regarding homeowner provided or homeowner hired landscape improvements, including installation of swimming pools, spas and hot tubs.

For the second issue, the result of the application of the proposed Ordinance to the swimming pool, spa and hot tub industry are inconsistent and discriminatory. The Ordinance, by its terms, only applies to projects that require a building or landscape permit, plan check or design review. Most residential backyard landscape projects involve the installation of hardscape, sprinklers, turf and plant material and do not require a building or landscape permit, plan check or design review, but installation of a swimming pool does require a building permit.  MWELO indicates a high water use hydro-zone areas to include the surface area of a water feature, including pools, spas and hot tubs, yet MWELO does not take into account in the calculation of the maximum applied water allowance any hardscape area of a backyard; therefore plans including swimming pools, spas and hot tubs would be considered high water users under MWELO and subject to disapproval.  A traditional residential backyard with both lawn and pool would be very difficult to gain approval because both the lawn and the pool would be considered high water users, without taking into account the hardscape surrounding the pool.

CPSA set forth the arguments that swimming pools, spas and hot tubs when installed are more than two times as water efficient as the turf the pool most often replaces. In fact, once completed, a swimming pool takes about the same amount of water to maintain annually as drought resistant landscaping of the same size when considering the entire project.  A pool, spa or hot tub with a cover takes about half of the water to maintain than drought resistant landscaping.

Also, because lot sizes for residential single family homes has been reduced as the cost of land and improvements have increased in California, it is often the case that the swimming pool, spa and surrounding deck take up almost all of the backyard project, with very little landscape areas for plants and bushes. In these cases the swimming pool and spa would be the largest landscape element in the project, excluding the surrounding hardscape, and subject to disapproval as a high water user.

CPSA stated: “Swimming pools and spas are not water wasters. New pool installations take a de minimis amount of water, approximately .0058 of 1% of the state’s annual urban water use and existing pools are competitive with drought resistant landscaping for annual water use. According to recent studies, the pool, spa and hot tub industry provides a $5 billion dollar annual impact on the state’s economy while producing almost 55,000 jobs in California. These businesses consist almost exclusively of small and family operated businesses that hire and purchase their building products and materials from other local businesses.”

The public has until October 26th to write to the CBSC regarding the application of the new Ordinance.  CPSA will attend a hearing regarding the matter at the CBSC this week and John Norwood will provide testimony recounting CPSA concerns.

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