Pools-Versus-Lawns Narrative Way Off Base


Want to conserve water on your California landscape? Take out your lawn and replace it with a swimming pool. The California Pool & Spa Association says that a standard-sized pool, plus decking, uses one-third less water than an irrigated lawn after an initial fill.

Hmmm. Could that be right? Does it make sense? So, what’s the point?

California is in the fourth year of a drought, and Gov. Jerry Brown this spring mandated a 25 percent reduction in residential use across the state. Lawns and swimming pools, not unexpectedly, are being targeted as non-essential users of water, and many of California’s 400 water agencies are passing regulations to dramatically reduce the impact of these “water-wasters” on the state’s finite water resources. Many agencies are in full-blown campaigns to eliminate lawns altogether and are offering property owners financial incentives to do so. In some neighborhoods, a healthy green irrigated lawn is not seen as contributing to community civility and pride, but as a sign of profligacy, wastefulness. “Shame on you for being such as a selfish property owner.”

In that light, it does seem strange that one industry so heavily dependent upon water, attempting to protect itself from restrictions that it perceives would negatively affect its prospects, would come up with a narrative so obviously hurtful to another industry. That is assuming The California Pool & Spa Association’s pool-versus-lawn story is believable in the first place. Who’s to say, really? The numbers it came up with to slam lawns are based on its own in-house study.

The pool-versus-lawn calculations depend on too many variables to be reliable, say experts. These variables include how much water splashes out, whether there’s a pool cover to prevent evaporation and how often the lawn was watered before it was ripped out, reported the Associated Press in a recent article.

In the end, the water used for pools and lawns is roughly the same, said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, a nonprofit research institute focused on the environment and sustainability. And letting a lawn die or replanting with desert landscaping uses dramatically less water than a pool, so the comparison misses the point, he said.

I have no way of knowing just what impact pool-versus-lawn story has had on regulators or the public. The point is, it’s rarely if ever a good thing when one industry attempts to toss another related industry under the bus.



  1. This might be a discussion coming to Florida soon. I agree: every time you irrigate your lawn it uses about the same volume of water as filling up your pool. But then pools don’t transform CO2 into oxygen… Besides, most of us here in Florida live surrounded by acres and acres of golf courses… I guess the discussion misses the point…

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