California's massive swimming pool industry faces a dilemma as the state heads into its summer season and a fourth year of historic drought conditions.
Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered unprecedented water restrictions in California, actions that are designed to cut water usage by 25 percent statewide. The state's economically essential agricultural sector, however, has been exempted from many of those cutbacks.
Starting on Tuesday, California's State Water Resources Control Board will begin hearing arguments for amendments to those restrictions and is scheduled to vote later in the week on finalizing those regulations.
"Every drop of potable water saved today improves California's ability to weather a possible fifth year of dry conditions," notes the state's fact sheet on the current water restrictions.
"In this fourth year of devastating drought conditions, many Californians will have to make real lifestyle changes in order to conserve water for what could be an extended drought." Along with restrictions on water use for toilets, showers, food preparation and cleaning, the state notes outdoor water use "will have to be substantially reduced."
And while California's emergency regulations do not, for now, ban the filling of private or public swimming pools, the state says local water suppliers "will decide how to meet their conservation standard, which could include limitations on the filling of swimming pools."
Swimming pools are a longstanding icon of the Golden State's lifestyle. According to the California Pool and Spa Association (CPSA), the state has more than 1.2 million private pools and about 300,000 commercial swimming pools belonging to local municipalities, hotels and apartment complexes.
The CPSA says the pool and spa industry contributes more than $5 billion in economic activity yearly to California and in 2013 employed nearly 55,000 people in the state.
In defense of their environmental impact, "a well-maintained pool or spa uses less water per day than an irrigated lawn," John Norwood, CPSA's president and chief lobbyist, said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch. "Most pool designs include more than just the pool itself. Wooden or concrete decks also replace traditional landscaping."
Norwood quoted a study by the Santa Magarita Water District in Orange County, which determined a 1,200 square-foot swimming pool with a cover uses around the same amount of water annually as "as California-friendly drought-resistant landscape the year after the pool has been constructed."
But the CPSA is also realistic about the drought's impact. "Along with every other industry that depends on water, the pool industry is going to have to give something in order to survive and help the rest of the state through this crisis," the association notes on its website. "That is the message we have received from the Governor and the State Water Resources Control Board, and it is the reality that we must now live with."
Those restrictions and the ongoing drought, however, don't appear to be slowing down California's love affair with swimming pools. Construction figures quoted by The Orange County Register say homeowners in that county have installed nearly 4,500 new swimming pools since 2010.
It may be counterintuitive, but the best thing for California's pool owners would be some very rainy years -- starting soon.