California may be experiencing chronic drought conditions, but local homeowners continue to build and use their swimming pools with no signs of stopping.
A quick glance at last week’s Los Altos Hills Planning Commission agenda revealed that each of the five development permit applicants request swimming pools onsite. If the permits are approved, the applicants will join 241 other homeowners in Los Altos Hills granted swimming-pool permits over the past 15 years, according to town records.
With no indication from the town or the Purissima Hills Water District that restrictions on filling new pools or draining existing pools will trickle down, Los Altos Hills residents are enjoying a luxury denied to some of the state’s more water-deprived districts.
Communities with limited access to external water sources are feeling the pinch as mandatory water conservation becomes reality. The Santa Cruz Water Department has implemented Stage 1 water restrictions that limit the hours for irrigation, have restaurants serve water on request only, require the immediate repair of leaks and prohibit the filling, draining or refilling of swimming pools and other water features. Violators are issued citations, with fees of $100 to $500 added after the first transgression.
“We would never do that unless we saw a persistent problem,” said Patrick Walter, general manager of the Purissima Hills Water District, of levying pool restrictions.
Big-picture planning starts with water budget
Following a mandate from the California Department of Water Resources, the town of Los Altos Hills added a water-efficient landscaping ordinance to its Municipal Code in 2010. According to Planning Director Debbie Pedro, the ordinance requires new development permit applicants to include a water-consumption estimate that meets the town’s parcel water budget – a figure determined via a complex formula that weighs parcel slope, evapotranspiration and conservation factors.
“Water features are considered a high-water-use element in landscaping,” she said. “The water-efficient landscape ordinance restricts you, and you have to give elsewhere.”
Pedro noted that new landscaping often requires more water than established landscaping, and the ordinance is designed to ensure that homeowners don’t exceed their water allotment.
The town has not implemented swimming-pool permit restrictions during previous droughts, but Pedro said water conservation efforts generally originate from the Los Altos Hills City Council, the Water Conservation Committee or water suppliers.
Too early to tell
The average pool takes 25,000 gallons of water to fill and loses many additional gallons of water to evaporation, leaks and pool splash, according to a report prepared for the California Urban Water Conservation Council. Pool covers could reduce evaporation by 30-50 percent, the report states.
In addition to covering pools and other water features to conserve water, homeowners can request a complimentary home inspection from the Purissima Hills Water District if they suspect a leak in pool plumbing. The Water Wise House Calls program will dispatch a technician to assess the homeowner’s water use and suggest water-efficiency improvements.
Walter said most people want to reduce their water consumption, and he recalls only a handful of pool leaks in his 20 years with the water district.
When the Los Altos Hills City Council meets 6 p.m. March 19 at town hall, 26379 W. Fremont Road, the Water Conservation Committee plans to present an update on the drought, answer questions on prevailing conditions and highlight ordinances that other communities are adopting to address the drought.
“Communities often don’t want to enforce stricter rules than other communities for fear of decreases in property value,” said Kit Gordon, chairwoman of the Water Conservation Committee.