The latest rains have spared a summer of swimming in Placer County – for now.
A month ago, Placer County Water Agency officials were poised to order strict conservation measures, including a blanket ban on filling new or existing swimming pools. But after several days of storms, water officials are having second thoughts.
“It’s still a bit early to outline a full-scale prescription of any reductions until we get greater context in this month,” said PCWA General Manager David Breninger.
The agency is the principal water provider in the county, serving 250,000 residents in southwest Placer. It has more than 33,000 retail accounts stretching from Rocklin to Colfax. PCWA also wholesales water to Roseville, Lincoln and the San Juan Water District, though the proposed water restrictions would not apply to customers there.
Pool builders showed up in force last month at a district board meeting to protest what they characterized as a death sentence for their livelihoods. They would not be able to construct new pools in the backyards of existing homes. Homeowners who drained their pools for the winter would have to leave them empty.
Their concerns, but more importantly the recent precipitation, have forced the board to take another look at the emergency measures.
At play is whether new storms will dump enough snow in the Sierra Nevada to shore up the water supply. PCWA receives most of its allocation from reservoirs operated by the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. in the Yuba River watershed. The watershed is particularly sensitive to snowpack, said Tony Firenzi, deputy director of technical services at PCWA and the agency’s functioning drought manager.
Additionally, the agency holds water rights in the American River. Officials await the April 1 snow survey, which will provide a better picture of the drought situation. Board members are expected to meet this afternoon in Auburn to discuss the latest developments.
Recent rains have brought precipitation levels to 43 percent of normal for the Sacramento region, according to the National Weather Service, but experts said it’s still a far cry from escaping drought territory.
“I don’t think the board is going to take any action on any type of emergency reductions or mandatory requirements at this time,” Chairman Joshua Alpine said Wednesday. “The water situation is very dynamic, and we’re assessing it on a daily basis.”
To pool builders, those words come as a relief for now.
“We’re an easy target,” said Jim Courage, owner of Courage Pools in Newcastle. “It’s more about perception. It’s not going to put a drop in the drought situation.”
Courage said a ban on new pools would have wide-reaching effects on the local economy, noting that builders employ hundreds of contractors while jurisdictions profit from permit fees and property improvement taxes. He said pool construction has just started to recover from the recession.
“Last five years, we’ve gotten two hands out of the grave. We’ve finally rebounded, but then it’s like boom,” he said. “It’s been a double whammy for us.”
Pool construction is a lucrative business in Placer County because of the affluence of area residents. In the past eight months, Roseville officials have issued 112 pool permits, according to city spokesman Brian Jacobson. Fees are based on the value of the pool and can range from $340 to $900. A total of 6,513 permits have been issued by the city since 1987.
In unincorporated parts of the county, including Granite Bay, there are a total of 7,117 residential pools, according to county assessor records. Since 2008, an average of 100 permits have been issued every year in the unincorporated areas.
By comparison, Rocklin has seen about 3,000 new pools or spas in the last 20 years. Lincoln recorded nearly double the number of permits last year than in 2012, city spokeswoman Jill Thompson said.
Collectively, the state is home to 1.2 million private pools, according to the California Pool and Spa Association, a Sacramento-based industry trade group.
PCWA board members have already implemented a ban on swimming pools and landscaping fixtures for new construction projects as part of a Feb. 6 drought declaration.
Other emergency measures that remain on the table include targeted cuts of 25 percent indoors and 50 percent outdoors. The eight-page draft declaration also spells out a ban on watering outdoors from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and washing a vehicle unless it is parked on a lawn.
The draft measures will likely be changed, Firenzi said, because of updated water allocation figures from PG&E. On Tuesday, PCWA reported it would receive 58 percent of its normal allocation rather than the original expectation of 39 percent, which Firenzi said would “significantly change the picture on reductions from customers.”
The California Pool and Spa Association is moving quickly to lobby water districts about the benefits of swimming pools. John Norwood, chief of government affairs, said that pools use less water than lawns in the long run.
“The only thing that affects them is evaporation, which can be prevented with a bubble cover,” Norwood said.
Pool builders, water officials and residents hope that the weather continues to cooperate. A storm overnight Wednesday was expected to drop just under half an inch of rain, according to the weather service. A separate system is likely to move into the region Sunday night, but it is still too early to determine what, if any, precipitation will come of that storm, said Craig Shoemaker, a meteorologist with weather service in Sacramento.
Even with the rainfall, Alpine, the PCWA board chairman, warned that emergency conservation measures aren’t “out of the picture.”
“We are still in a critical water year,” he said.