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The California Department of Resources hosted numerous stakeholder meetings in 2017 with the goal of developing modifications to the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance (MWELO) to ease implementation by local building officials throughout the state.  The California Pool and Spa Association and its retained consultant participated in these meetings, and was the only trade association representing the swimming pool and spa industry to do so, noted John Norwood, executive Director of the organization. “We have worked hard to develop recommendations specifically related to swimming pools and spas that will ensure the MWELO is a better fit for our industry and easier for pool builder in California to comply.”

As the name implies, the MWELO is a model ordinance for cities to use as a template for their own local codes as required by AB 1881. MWELO provides thorough guidelines for the usage of outdoor water, focusing on recommended plants, irrigation models, and other landscape features to use water in the most efficient manner possible. In its inception, MWELO was intended only to apply to large commercial and residential developments, ensuring that spaces such as apartment complexes and office buildings did not misuse water. However a section of the legislation requires that MWELO be updated every three years, and during that revision process the scope of the Ordinance has broadened dramatically. In addition, the Governor used his emergency authority to amend and implement MWELO statewide during California’s historic drought.

As it currently stands, the requirements for MWELO come into play when a permit is pulled for a new landscaped area of 500 square feet or more, and a rehabilitated landscape area of 2,500 square feet or more. Because pools have been lumped in with water features and other “high water users,” the imprecise nature of the requirements and definitions surrounding where and when MWELO applies provides a severe danger of pools being effectively regulated out of existence in California. MWELO rules do not currently take the specific nature of pools into account, ignoring mitigating factors such as pool covers and extensive decking that separate them from items such as fountains or ponds. Additionally, no consideration has been given to the fact that pools use water differently than plants, meaning that the water calculations required in MWELO that call for evapotanspiration factors and other plant measurements simply don’t work.

In light of these issues, the CPSA has filed a five page comment letter with the DWR detailing a list of recommendations for how the Ordinance can be changed to actually accommodate the realities of pool construction and maintenance. Included in those recommendations are important points such as providing a new formula for calculating evaporated water loss from the surface of a pool, and that associated hardscape or decking surrounding the pool be considered part of the landscape area. Additionally, the letter requested clarification on the language already existing in MWELO that would definitively classify community pools and spas as Special Landscape Areas, granting them special protections and water usage rights, and calling for consideration of residential pools and spas as SLAs as well.

Moving forward, the CPSA plans to continue attending these stakeholder meetings and advocating for pools and spas with the DWR. Although it is a complex and multifaceted issue, if not carefully monitored the regulations imposed by MWELO have the potential to devastate the pool and spa industry in California. As part of our ongoing mission to ensure that pools will continue to be built and remain open and accessible to everyone, the CPSA is committed to this process for the foreseeable future.