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Drought-Slammed Pool Installers Need to Get in the Cistern Business

Pool installers whining about the decline of pool installations in drought areas need to change with the Climate.

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All last week, we heard (through much media from the California Pool and Spa Association (CPSA)) that its members are suffering during the drought. Pool installations are sinking to near zero, and homeowners are choosing to fill in swimming pools (which appears not to involve many installers). Some municipalities have banned pool installations because, on average, the initial fill involves using 15,000 gallons of precious potable water.

Cherry Picking Facts

In my opinion, the pool industry is cherry-picking facts. However, those filling pools in may not be really be helping homeowners, and homeowners could do better repurposing their swimming pools to be catchment basin and water harvesting cisterns. The pool industry could change itself to repurpose swimming pools into cisterns and to maintain the rainwater harvesting systems just like they have with swimming pools. This could be a real win win for water conservation.

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Is it true that pool use less water than grass as the installers claim? The pool industry says pools use half the water of grass (see video below). I have been writing about this for years. The answer is, “Absolutely, yes.” Here’s why.

Think of grass like a comb and a swimming pool like a bowl. Because of the spiky nature of grass, it has far more surface area over the same amount of square feet as that of more limited amount of surface area in the bowl. Every blade of grass is a surface area in all dimensions for evaporation. On the other hand, the pool evaporates from a flat surface.

Pool Covers: One Simple Step

A pool cover can reduce evaporation dramatically. “A pool cover can reduce water loss to evaporation by 95 percent,” said Peter Brostrom, chief of the California Department of Water Resources’ water use efficiency section. But most people use pool covers at night (if they remember to use them at all) to conserve heat rather than use them during the day to conserve water. Heat and sun increase the rate of evaporation. For those who have pools, they may be able to reduce their water use to meet the new reduction standards by adding a pool cover and using it.

But covering pools does not "fix" the drought problem. It merely mitigates. There are better ways to create resilience for the pool industry.

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Pools Into Cisterns?

Water harvesting is an underrated and underserved niche. It's one that beleagered pool installers could step into quite nicely. A pool can be easily converted into a ready-made water cistern. And collecting water is not just a plus for filling pools. The whole permaculture movement involves planting trees and plants, usually edible, and watering these exclusively with recycled and treated gray water and harvested rainwater. This is the business into which pool and spa installers should recalibrate.

  • Instead of filling in the pool one either seals it or places an appropriate water cistern in the pool space. Many people pay excavators dearly to install water cisterns under driveways or patios -- or put the cistern in and build a driveway or patio over it.
  • Drought is likely to increase demand for water harvesting. Why not put an important part of the system in the hole you already have?
  • For big cisterns, there are pumps required to move the water, pipes required to direct the reclaimed or harvested water to its final destination. The installers already pipe for water delivery, filtering, chemical additions, pool cleaning and other pool related needs. Why not use those same skills to meet the needs of gray and rain water gathering, harvesting, treatment, if necessary, and distribution?
  • Some municipalities limit graywater uses. So there might be a need for two cisterns and separate designated uses for the gray and the harvested water. More opportunity.
  • Once you’ve installed the cisterns and piping there are opportunities for maintenance. Some people need help determining a watering schedule. Testing may need to be done to assure water quality. And what do you plant? Where? More opportunity to partner with landscape companies or nurseries.
  • A year or so ago I wrote about a company that was making yards into mini-farms harvesting fruit and produce. In our overworked world, the pool companies could offer weeding and harvesting services. More opportunity. If this really caught on, the pool companies and those they serviced, could become part of the locavore movement producing and distributing food.

As I said earlier, this could be a real win win for all. Below is the cover of the underground cistern in the backyard of Watershed Management in Tucson, Ariz. When closed, the cover is bench on a patio. Under that patio is a 10,000 gallon cistern. There is little reason that a swimming pool could not be converted to rainwater harvesting.

Water Harvesting Rebates

Some states are offering tax rebates for those who install rainwater systems. In Tucson that rebate is several thousand dollars.

Get in the Water Conservation Business

So, I say again, pool installers, get with the program. Quit whining. Stop saying you are better than grass. There shouldn’t be any non-native grass either. In the drought-stricken desert you may even be using fossil water to fill those pools. Even when it does rain again, it won’t be easy to replenish ancient aquifers. Get out of the water wasting business. Get in the water harvesting and conservation business. Please.