In a recently launched “drought education” campaign, trade group the California Pool and Spa Association (CPSA) suggests that installing a backyard swimming hole is an effective — and super-fun! — way to conserve water as the state’s historic dry spell enters its fourth year.

In fact, the Let’s Pool Together campaign claims that mindfully maintained residential swimming pools require far less water than lush, irrigated lawns. Citing “independent studies,” the campaign trumpets the fact that swimming pools, of which there are an estimated 1.8 million private ones in California, use roughly half the amount of water that a lawn uses in the same period.

And as for that massive first fill, the campaign claims that the average amount of water needed to fill a new pool in its first year, 26,250 gallons, is still less — about 3,750 gallons less — than the amount of precious H2O needed to maintain a 800-square-foot lawn’s desired shade of non-brown. The savings can grow even greater in subsequent years after the pool is first installed and filled.

Many water experts believe that regularly irrigated traditional lawns and residential pools use around the same amount of water, although there is indeed the potential for a pool to consume less depending on numerous different factors including size, age and maintenance.

CPSA Chairman Mike Geremia lays it all out in a news release:

Many people assume pools and spas waste water, but that’s just not true. Because pools and spas often replace traditional lawns, which are very water-intensive, every pool and spa actually saves thousands of gallons of water per year. Yet even with those water savings, we know there are steps pool and spa owners can take this summer to potentially save even more. That’s why we’re launching the Let’s Pool Together campaign — to ensure that pool and spa owners do their part during the drought.

When you think about it, this all kind of makes sense – and hell, who wouldn’t want a new swimming pool?

However, there are far too many variables to consider before actually agreeing that ripping out one’s lawn and building a pool is indeed “the right thing to do.” And while most of us would no doubt rather float around aimlessly in the company of an inflatable flamingo than mow the lawn (or hire someone else to mow the lawn), a new backyard pool or hot tub isn’t financially in the cards for most Californians. It's a luxury.

The most drought-appropriate theoretical scenario involving a new pool would play out like this: homeowners would first remove their beloved turf grass and, in its place, install a medium-sized pool surrounded by a large amount of decking. Then, in addition to recreation, they'd proceed to use the new pool as a multipurpose reservoir for bathing, clothes washing and the like. Maybe a tinkle or two here and there to further conserve water in the bathroom. And, of course, California water steward Lady Gaga would need to be retained as an in-house lifeguard.

Given how far-fetched — and foul — the above scenario sounds, the most practical route for homeowners who don’t already have a pool but do have an sizable expanse of turf grass in the backyard would be to rip out their water-guzzling lawn (an act that's generously rewarded in some cities and municipalities) and replace it with drought-tolerant landscaping and/or edible gardens.

Then, they should make it a habit of biking or walking to a local community pool for a daily swim session. Or they could just cozy up to the neighbor down the street who just happens to have a massive aquatic playground in his backyard. If the newly befriended neighbor isn’t keen on sharing his pool, one could always resort to blackmail: You do know that I saw you washing your car in the driveway at 2 a.m., right? Care if I come over for a few laps?

“We're not saying, 'Solve the drought, put in a pool,' but the bottom line is people who put in a pool are making a decision to do something more water efficient with their backyard. They're saving water," John Norwood, president of the CPSA recently clarified to the Associated Press. "Pools are landscaping."

It makes sense that the California’s pool industry is promoting the “more drought-friendly than grass” possibilities of pool ownership. Pool sales in California are down and a growing handful of cities and water districts have already or are in the process of imposing pool-specific restrictions, including bans on refilling private swimming pools. Some areas have even put a hold on issuing pool permits.

The Los Angeles Times notes that Santa Cruz prohibits filling and refilling pools and spas while Beverly Hills, a town world famous for its rolling, putting green-perfect lawns and opulent outdoor swimming pools, recently finalized similar restrictions.

The existing abundance of thirsty, immaculately groomed lawns and plus-sized pools in Beverly Hills brings up an issue worth mentioning: many Californians with large, water-intensive lawns tend to already have pools. Should they be installing new — or larger — pools to occupy space previously occupied by grass?

The answer is no, of course not. In terms of water conservation, drought-tolerant landscaping wins over pools, lawns and pools and lawns together.

The CPSA is, naturally, strongly opposed to any restrictions that would negatively impact the swimming pool industry (and Bel Air pool boys):

From builders to suppliers to maintenance workers, the pool and spa industry is composed of local small, often minority-owned, businesses. Imposing such industry-specific regulations will put hundreds of local workers out of business and mean less money for local governments that rely on money from building permits.

And while the idea of ripping out an irrigated lawn and replacing it with a pool to save water might seem ludicrous, the Let’s Pool Together campaign — “California is facing an unprecedented drought! Pool owners are already saving water. But we can all do more!” — does offer helpful hints to homeowners who aren’t emotionally prepared to drain their backyard swimming holes and transform them into skate parks: installing a pool cover to reduce evaporation (a no brainer), reducing the heat of heating pools to further prevent evaporation, disabling fountains and other water features, inspecting for leaks, regularly cleanings, etc.

The campaign, launched by the CPSA in partnership with the statewide Save Our Water program headed by the California Department of Water Resources and Association of California Water Agencies, also recommends minimizing splashing. Knock it off kids … enough with the horseplay. And NO cannonballs. I mean it. There’s a drought at hand.

Via [LA Times], [AP]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.