A Note From The Drought Zone

photo of a droughtLast week we ran a story about impending Stage 5 drought restrictions in Wichita Falls, Texas, under which swimming pool maintenance may be compromised. Here, Paul Buckingham, owner of Outback Pools & Spas in Wichita Falls, reports on developments of concern to pool industry members everywhere as the municipality contemplates measures that may be replicated in other areas of the U.S. — if this drought continues.

As we approach Stage 5 Drought restrictions, I would like to address the issues of how we got here, why the decisions were made to target pools, how we fought to save our businesses with the city leaders and how we are conserving pool and spa water.  

Water is something we borrow for a short time as it moves around the planet. Some places get more than is needed and others not enough. We are in the latter group. Three consecutive years of excessive heat and below normal rain put us here. We average 28 100-degree days and 28.5 inches of rain annually. Between 2011-13 we had 185 100-degree days along with only 52.5 inches of rain. That means we are over a year behind in rain. The Weather Channel gave us the distinction of the "Worst Weather" city in 2011 because we experienced 100 days over 100 degrees, a 350% increase. Our manmade reservoirs have evaporated at extreme rates without being recharged by rain. We did not "drink" our lakes dry. 

We are currently under Stage 4 restrictions. Stage 5 will go into affect when our water sources reach 25% capacity. As of today we are at 25.8%. When we drop that last fraction of a percent, the City of Wichita Falls will enact Stage 5 restrictions that preclude the use of potable water to fill pools, spas and hot tubs. All evaporative uses of water will be restricted from the use of potable water. Indoor pools are exempt from these restrictions. 

As a member of the advisory board to the Water Resource Committee for the past 2 1/2 years, we have had an opportunity to educate the WRC on how pools and spas use water. We went in knowing we were considered adversaries because of the perception that pools and spas waste water. Standing behind the facts, we were able to convince the WRC to not ban water use in Stages 2-4. In Stage 5, all bets were off. 

The community as a whole had to determine the most effective uses of the water we have left. The City Council adopted the Stage 5 Drought Catastrophe rules that the WRC recommended at the April 15th meeting. I attended that meeting to make to make a last minute argument — I explained that our spas and hot tubs do not evaporate water and can recycle the same water for up to a year with the new water management systems our products employ. I was able to convince the City Council members that spas and hot tubs should be given the same exemption as indoor pools. We won a battle for a significant portion of our business.

Our city is weeks away from direct reuse of our waste treatment water. We will be the first city in Texas using 50/50 wastewater/lake water through the water treatment plant. 

We have had to become creative in conserving water in our pools and spas, having gone through droughts in previous decades. We are selling more evaporation protection products like Cover Free, which can reduce evaporation up to 85%. We are also using rainwater-harvesting techniques with the simple extension of a rain gutter to the pool. With these two simple systems we can operate a pool without potable water when we get 1-2 inches of rain per month. 

Also, by installing a 500- to 1,500-gallon tank and plumbing the waste line off the filter, we can save our wastewater and surplus rainwater for later use. Once the backwash water has settled, we can recycle the back into the pool. 

Of course, maintaining proper water care is a must. We calculated that one algae bloom can cost up to 1,000 gallons of water. 

Finally, we are using outside sources to haul in water. Most of this is well water that has high calcium and alkalinity, trace metals of copper and iron and high TDS, but we don't really have a choice.

The drought we are enduring is the greatest crisis we have faced as a city. The current drought has surpassed all other droughts in the past 115 years, making this the worst catastrophe in our history (including the 1979 tornado that, at the time, was the most costly in US history). 

We urge all pool and spa business owners and operators to make plans before a drought grips your community. Get involved with city leaders and the water department to inform them on how we use water in pools and spas. Campaign on the benefits of pools and spas and how we as an industry conserve and recycle water. Waiting until you’re in a drought makes it harder to convince community leaders, much less the general public. 

Unfortunately, perception can beat reality. Don't wait. Act now. 

Praying For Rain,

Paul Buckingham

Owner - Outback Pools & Spas

Wichita Falls, Texas

Content Library
Dig through our best stories from the magazine, all sorted by category for easy surfing.
Read More
Content Library
Buyer's Guide
Find manufacturers and suppliers in the most extensive searchable database in the industry.
Learn More
Buyer's Guide