By Marcelle Dibrell
On October 4, the California Water Resources Control Board conducted a public hearing on a controversial set of water regulations that threaten the state’s pool and spa industry.
According to the California Pool and Spa Association (CPSA), these recently proposed regulations by the board are targeting swimming pools. If enacted, these regulations would likely spell the end of the swimming pool and spa building industry in California. Moreover, these regulations would arguably leave more than 1.3 million homeowners in the state with a pool they could not keep filled and a home that they would be unable to sell.
The proposed regulation would limit how much water urban water retailer suppliers can provide and then mandate further reductions in 2030 and 2035 based on models of landscape efficiency water districts would be required to encourage and/ or implement.
As proposed, a swimming pool will initially have the same efficiency factor as turf. That is because a square foot of turf has about the same evaporation factor as a square foot of
CWRCB’s proposed regulation would cut current water amounts available to fill pools and spas in half, potentially leaving 1.3 million homeowners with a pool or spa they cannot keep filled. Image credit: Alan Smith Pool Plastering, Orange, CA. water. However, this measurement only applies to the surface area of the water in the pool. The measurement does not consider the water savings from the installation of the hardscape, which is primarily why pools score so well against turf relative to water restrictions during droughts. Most residential swimming pool projects include 2 to 4 times the surface area of the pool in hardscape that is forever removed from irrigation. However, in 2030, the efficiency factor would be reduced, and it would be reduced again in 2035. Water districts that exceed these limits could face severe penalties of up to $10,000 per day.
Because evaporation cannot be reduced like changing landscaping, these reductions have the effect of making it extremely difficult for water districts to get credit to provide water for residential swimming pools. These proposed reductions could force water districts to publicly discourage the installation of pools by homeowners. Moreover, these regulations could have long-term consequences for homeowners, who could be left with a stranded asset in a pool where there is no water available to maintain its, use making the home unmarketable and putting the swimming pool industry out of business in California.
The CPSA was front and center at the October hearing, which took place in Sacramento.
These types of regulations have never been attempted previously and are extremely controversial from the standpoint of more than 400 California water districts and the swimming pool industry.
The hearing lasted more than 10 hours. The board heard from in excess of 110 individuals who registered to provide comments on the proposal.
On behalf of the CPSA, lobbyist John Norwood indicated that the industry was strongly opposed to the proposed regulations. He pointed out that the regulations do not recognize the fact that swimming pools collectively reduce the amount of water districts need to provide because the hardscape associated with the pool project forever removes those areas from irrigation.
In addition, Norwood chided the board for its failure to follow statutes governing the development of proposed regulations. Those statutes require the board to seek stakeholder input, consider the proposed regulation’s impact on affected industries, small businesses associated with affected stakeholders, employment in those industries, and overall economic effect. Statutes governing the development of regulations also require the board to consider alternatives that would lessen the economic impact on affected stakeholders.
This was only the first of what is expected to be multiple hearing on these regulations. CPSA will be filing written comments on the proposed regulation by October 17, 2023, and expects expedited outreach from the board to meet their obligations under California law.
The following talking points were brought up at the October 4 public hearing:
• There is no legislative history to support the idea that swimming pools and spas should be targeted.
• There has been no public policy debate at the elected official level that would justify targeting residential swimming pools and spas. The Department of Water Resources has no drought restrictions relating to swimming pools or spas other than recommending covers when not in use.
• Swimming pools save water over the landscapes they most often replace. On average, a swimming pool saves 30,000 gallons of water a year over traditional landscaping.
• There has been no outreach to the swimming pool interests or stakeholder involvement with these regulations as required Government Code 11346.45
• The Notice of Regulatory Action indicates that the types of businesses that would be affected by these regulations are publicly owned or privately owned water and irrigation districts, yet these regulations would adversely affect at least 3,400 C-53 licensed pool builders in California as well as pool service and pool maintenance companies, pool equipment and chemical manufacturers, and numerous building subcontractors.
• The board has not considered any alternatives to the adverse economic impact these regulations would have on the swimming pool industry in California as required.
• The board has indicated that these regulations would increase jobs in California without taking into consideration the more than 50,000 people employed in the swimming pool and spa business in California that could be sidelined if they are adopted.
• The board has indicated that the only economic interest adversely affected by these regulations are water suppliers.
This ignores the $5 billiondollar- per-year economic impact in California of the swimming pool and spa industry.
• The proposed regulations would adversely affect approximately 1.3 million homeowners in the state who own a residence with a swimming pool. These homeowners will potentially be left with stranded assets of a pool that they cannot maintain and a house that they cannot sell.
• The board’s regulations ignore that the swimming pool industry produces the most jobs per acre foot of water used than any industry in the state.
• The board’s regulation ignores that the pool industry has the biggest economic impact per acre foot of water used than any other industry in the state.
• The Notice of Regulatory Action indicated that these regulations would have very limited effects on small businesses in the state. That ignores the fact that most of the 50,000 individuals employed in the swimming pool industry are employed by small businesses.
• The board ignores the economic impact of these regulations on the businesses that supply pool builders with steel, cement, sand, piping, pool and lighting equipment, and landscape materials.
• These regulations would result in adverse public health and safety issues because unmaintained swimming pools will become attractive nuisances and breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other diseases.
• The regulations defy logic and science. You cannot alter the science of evaporation by assigning a different water credit.
• Landscapes can be altered by homeowners by reducing or removing turf, using water efficient-plants, adding mulch, or altering the irrigation system. Swimming pools cannot be altered by the homeowner once built to reduce water consumption.
• The average swimming pool project includes 1,000-2,000 square feet of hardscape, which is forever removed from irrigation. The allowed water credits for swimming pools should take this hardscape into account.
For more information visit https:// www.cpsa.org.