For California Swimming Pools, This Is Hardly A Dry Spell Despite the severe drought, Californians built more backyard swimming pools in 2014 than in any year since the peak of the housing boom. And this year the state is on pace to shatter last year's mark.

For California Swimming Pools, This Is Hardly A Dry Spell

For California Swimming Pools, This Is Hardly A Dry Spell

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Despite the severe drought, Californians built more backyard swimming pools in 2014 than in any year since the peak of the housing boom. And this year the state is on pace to shatter last year's mark.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Californians built more backyard swimming pools in the never regions (ph) all over the state last year than any year since the peak of the housing boom. This year, they're on pace to shatter last year's mark and all of this during one of the worst droughts in California history. Capital Public Radio's Ben Adler reports from Sacramento.

BEN ADLER, BYLINE: Aaron Gurley watches his crew tap a leveling tool into wet concrete around the edge of a huge backyard hole in the ground.

AARON GURLEY: Most people don't realize the amount of math that goes into a swimming pool.

ADLER: The hole has been sealed with a mix of dry sand and cement to prevent leaks. Now the crew is getting sent to lay natural stone tiles around the pool's edge.

GURLEY: So they're just really making sure, before we set this first kind of keystone, capstone piece, that the elevation's right 'cause everything else is going to follow that.

ADLER: Gurley’s Premier Pools and Spas crew is building the pool for Victoria Deal, who lives in the Eastern Sacramento Suburb of Folsom. She's the mother of three boys, and she's excited to give them a pool to let off their energy in the sweltering summer heat.

VICTORIA DEAL: I know there's a lot of people that have asked, you know, wow, I'm surprised that you are putting in a pool because of the drought. But I feel like for us, it's going to be great for family but also for - our backyard is now going to be really low-maintenance.

ADLER: Deal is hardly alone in building a pool during the drought. According to industry tracking firm Construction Monitor, Californians built or rebuilt well over 11,000 swimming pools last year, the highest since 2007. This year, the state is on track for more than 13,000. But as local water agencies tighten their restrictions to implement new state-mandated reductions, the pool industry is fighting to survive. It's one of several water-reliant industries that recently met with Governor Jerry Brown. (SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JERRY BROWN: So that's why we want to hear from all of you and make sure that the people who are working in government listen.

ADLER: Some local water agencies, including cities as large as San Jose, are banning the filling of pools. Lobbyist John Norwood with the California Pool and Spa Association told the governor that's an effective moratorium on pool construction.

JOHN NORWOOD: That is a concern in terms of, you know, stopping economic activity.

BROWN: Has that happened yet?

NORWOOD: Yes, it had.

BROWN: Whereabouts?

NORWOOD: Well, just recently, Milpitas, Manteca...

ADLER: The city of Milpitas says its ban on new pools which took effect last year helped it save enough water to get a lower reduction mandate from the state. Norwood says the pool industry generates $5 billion a year for the California economy. More importantly, he says, pools use less water than lawns. A study by a local Orange County water agency says that's true, eventually. Jonathan Volzke with the Santa Margarita Water District says pools use more water when they're installed but need less to maintain.

JONATHAN VOLZKE: We went back and did the math, and we found that with a pool and the associated decking around it, a pool can actually use less water than grass. And if pool covers are used and the project is big enough, it can actually be as efficient as California-friendly plants.

ADLER: Also known as drought-tolerant landscape. The study prompted Volzke's water district and others to delay its ban on filling pools until a more severe drought response level. So while industry lobbyists work to sway local water agencies, pool builders like Aaron Gurley are weaving potential water savings into their sales pitch.

GURLEY: People are now saying, hey, we've always wanted a swimming pool and wow, that's pretty cool. Putting in a swimming pool does help conserve water over lots of other landscape.

ADLER: And the numbers don't lie. Californians may not be building pools because of the drought, but it sure doesn't hurt. For NPR News, I'm Ben Adler in Sacramento.

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