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Drought worsens, expect water restrictions

Tania Weingart is worried she won’t be allowed to fill her pool. The Novato, California, resident is finally getting her dream pool built, but water restrictions may prohibit seeing the pool to completion.

Because of the current drought, her water company, North Marin Water, is not allowing filling of new pools or refilling existing ones. And although she got a permit for the pool last fall, before the restrictions applied, she is still concerned that the district will prohibit that necessary finishing touch.

For Weingart, it’s terribly frustrating. The pool itself cost nearly $100,000. But to reduce their water footprint, Weingart and her husband also put in a $12,000 drip irrigation system, and they have plans to rip up the lawn and replace it with artificial turf.

“I understand the drought. What makes us not just nervous, but pissed, is the fact that not only do we have a permit — so we shouldn’t have a problem — it’s that we invested in a drip system too,” she said. “It’s not like we don’t consider the shortages.”

If it’s bad for homeowners, who could spend the summer looking at freshly plastered holes, it might be worse for pool builders, who are considering their future livelihoods.

“ I’m worried about future revenues,” said Rick Fernandez, who is installing the Weingart pool for Premier Pools and Spas out of American Canyon in Napa County. He said he has about a dozen jobs with permits pending and eight that are under construction.

“People are probably not even calling now. How many calls am I not getting because they can’t fill their pools?” he said.

Their worries come during what some are calling a historic drought.

According to the US drought monitor, more than 92 percent of California is in severe drought conditions. Recent measurements of the Sierra snowpack, which is used to carry the state through the summer months, is 70 percent below normal.

And because Northern California and the Central Valley are in worse conditions than Southern California, Northern California cities are getting serious about water-use restrictions.

Currently, the California Pool and Spa Association, CPSA, is in the midst of a battle with the Marin and North Marin Water Districts over the recently enacted ordinance that prohibits filling new pools. On April 19, CPSA provided testimony at the North Marin Water District Board Meeting, urging a repeal of their ban on filling new pools. Speaking on behalf of CPSA and the Pool and Hot Tub Alliance, John Norwood with Norwood Associates presented facts and information to the District Board about the minimal amounts of water utilized for swimming pools and the low volume overall used by them in comparison to other water usage.

In a letter to the districts, Norwood wrote that the prohibition of pool filling would not make a difference in the water supply issue.

“We are very aware that California is experiencing a severe drought, and water is a precious commodity. However, prohibiting the filling of swimming pools and spas is, at most, a symbolic gesture. Pools use very little water.

However, what this prohibition does achieve is to threaten the very existence of pool builders in the community who have weathered the COVID-19 storm.”

He compared the average water consumed by a car wash and found an inequity favoring car washers versus swimming pool contractors. Meanwhile, the pool industry accounts for $5 billion and 94,000 jobs in the state’s economy in 2020, he wrote.

According to the CPSA, most concerning about this is that a ban on filling swimming pools would be expected in a Stage 4 drought condition, and California is currently under Stage 2 conditions.

The North Marin Water District Board voted to keep their ban in effect.

But California is far from alone in its water woes.

In Las Vegas, the Southern Nevada Water Authority is proposing a limit for residential pools to 600 square feet, which, for pools of an average depth of 5.5 feet, represents nearly 25,000 gallons.

According to Bronson Mack, a spokesperson for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, millions of gallons of water a year could be saved by the change. He said large pools lose a lot of water to evaporation.

“One of the drivers behind that is we have seen very large swimming pools in excess of 1,000 to 5,000 square feet being installed. So, we really don’t have the water supply to continue to support that kind of pool size,” Mack said.

In a state where lawns are literally illegal — last year Nevada passed a law banning ornamental grass and mandating its removal from the Las Vegas Valley by 2027 — proposal to limit residential pool sizes is hardly extreme by comparison.

And it looks like it’s about to get a lot worse.

At Lake Powell, the reservoir created by Arizona’s Glen Canyon Dam, the Interior Department is turning down the Colorado River’s flow to Arizona, California, and Nevada. It is an effort to protect the lake from the West’s historic drought.

The Bureau of Reclamation will withhold 480,000 acre-feet of water from Lake Powell in 2022 to prevent the reservoir from dropping so low it can no longer generate electricity.

The Colorado River provides water to more than 40 million people from Colorado to California (a total of seven states), and the withheld water represents a 6.4 percent cut to the annual water delivered to Arizona, California, and Nevada — about as much as Las Vegas uses in a year.

In February 2022, a study was published in Nature Climate Change that details just how dry things have gotten.

To get a sense of how dire the drought is right now, the current “megadrought” that has gripped the U.S. Southwest for the last 22 years is the worst the western U.S. has seen in 1,200 years.

The region hasn’t seen a more severe drought since the start of the scientific record — and it’s probably not over yet.

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