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Aquatic Recreation in the West - Dispel Water Use Myths

How To Secure Support Of A New Community Pool

By Christa Plaza & Kristen Hodel - April 14, 2023

Aquatic recreation in the West given the long-term drought, what is the future of pools for our communities? While the recent rain and snow across the West have temporarily eased extreme conditions in some areas, municipalities are heading indicators and implementing water conservation policies. For example, in 2022, Aurora, Colorado, implemented a new water conservation ordinance prohibiting nonfunctional cool weather turf in new developments. In addition, at the State level, the Colorado Water Conservation Board is developing a Turf Replacement Program to incentivize the voluntary replacement of nonessential irrigated turf. While these restrictions have not directly impacted our ability to fill swimming pools, our communities are wondering, are we being responsible?

As an architecture firm that designs pools and aquatic facilities, we take responsibility for working with parks and recreation professionals to dispel myths about water use for aquatic recreation. For example, at the 2022 Colorado Parks and Recreation Association annual conference in Breckenridge, four colleagues and I led a panel discussion on the state of aquatic recreation in the West.

Carol Cosby, Director of Parks and Recreation, Pueblo West Metro District, discussed navigating the impacts of water restrictions while planning to build a new aquatic center. In 2022, the Metro District underwent a water moratorium on new taps putting a spotlight on water consumption. As a result, the community voiced concerns over the amount of water needed to operate a new aquatic center. While the moratorium is lifted, fundraising for the facility remains underway, and distributing facts about the pool's water requirements is critical to the project's success. Carol is leading the effort to ensure the community knows there are far wiser water conservation options than limiting public pool access.

Swimming is essential to public health; to pull the plug (all puns intended) is irresponsible for public health. Drowning is the #1 cause of unintentional death of children aged 1-4 years, and public swimming facilities play a crucial role in preventing drownings. While only 56% of Americans have the five basic swimming skills, aquatics rank high on the community "wish" surveys (Swimming Pools in the US - Industry Data, Trends, Stats | IBISWorld). It is typical for parks and recreation swimming programs to reach capacity. 

Presenting the facts and relatable comparisons about water usage is vital to garnering support. 
One of the myths to dispel is that pools require too much water. The truth is that with proper maintenance and operations, a pool consumes considerably less water annually than is commonly perceived, far less than some other recreation amenities. For example:
  • A natural turf field in Colorado requires about 2.6 million gallons.
  • A 150-acre golf course takes 200 million gallons.
  • A typical 25-yard lap pool uses around 500,000 gallons.
For municipalities preparing to take the idea of a new pool to a public vote, a few best practices have been proven to increase the odds of passing a funding measure. During the CPRA presentation, panelists Scott Hickman, Carbon Valley Parks and Recreation District, Connor Riley, P.E., Studio Director, Kevin Post, Principal, Counsilman-Hunsaker, discussed pool water conservation best practices and community outreach. According to Counsilman-Hunsaker, pool projects that include community outreach average a 50% chance of moving forward;  those without have only a 30% chance. Plan for 6 to 12 months of outreach before going to voters with a funding vote and focus on presenting why it is worth it.

Talk, talk, talk! Get the work out to garner support. Information stations at high-traffic user groups locations, like, schools, recreation facilities, and grocery stores, staffed with informed and enthusiastic volunteers, quickly inform passersby about the benefits of voting "yes." Distributing concise talking points to be used in social media posts, local advertising, printed materials, and “town hall” meetings. Take the opportunity to dispel myths about irresponsible water usage. State exactly how much $ it will cost per household and the benefits that will be realized the list is lengthy and proven. Stakeholders are eager to engage in focus groups and provide a platform to understand concerns and wishes. Gain the backing of community leaders by inviting them to participate. Create customized community engagement tools to help bridge what is realistic while allowing creative solutions to develop.

For more information about pool design and to obtain pool water consumption facts, contact Essenza Architecture