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The lifeguard sector is one of the sectors most affected by the uncertainty SUR
More than 75,000 swimming pools in Malaga province await decision on whether they can be filled
Drought crisis

More than 75,000 swimming pools in Malaga province await decision on whether they can be filled

Confusing messages and complex regulations are keeping individuals, companies and administrators on tenterhooks. SUR takes a look at what the regional decrees and local ordinances say

Alba Martín Campos

Malaga

Monday, 15 April 2024, 11:29

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Owners of more than 75,000 private swimming pools in Malaga province are still awaiting a decision on whether or not they can fill them this summer. On paper, the ban on filling pools at public, sports and health centres, as well as in hotels and at campsites has been lifted, but no such clarity exists for the more than 75,000 private swimming pools - according to data from the government's Catastro property register - throughout the province.

SUR has analysed the regulations: the decrees of the Junta prohibit filling with drinking water but do not include swimming pools in the uses of untreated water. Meanwhile, the main municipal regulations range from those that prohibit filling, to others than talk about drinking water, while others are extremely ambiguous.

What is the state of play?

In Malaga there are 79,124 swimming pools, 78,606 outdoor and 518 indoor, but the statistics do not distinguish between public and private ownership, nor how many are shared by several properties. This prevents us from knowing the exact number of those that may be left unused this summer. We do know that throughout the province there are 910 registered hotels, including hostels, guesthouses and hotel-apartments, 40% of which are between three and five stars. Rural houses for tourist use and campsites also tend to have swimming pools and there are 5,867 in Malaga province, according to data from the Junta de Andalucía.

These figures give a more accurate idea that a large number of the swimming pools registered in the land registry are for private use and that many may empty this summer depending on the decision taken by local councils. The municipality with the most swimming pools is Marbella: 10,744. It is followed by Mijas (8,231), Malaga (6,033) and Alhaurín de la Torre (4,976). However, Arenas is the town with the highest number per inhabitant: one swimming pool for every 2.7 citizens. Most of them are located in country houses scattered throughout the area.

Administrators and companies on tenterhooks

With thousands of waiting owners and the uncertainty generated, the Association of Property Administrators has demanded clarity and legal certainty. Last summer, for example, there were conflicts in Axarquía between developments and even within the same community over the use of swimming pools - some ended up in court.

Service companies are on tenterhooks as thousands of contracts for maintenance, lifeguards, garden irrigation, training courses and reservations in tourist flats are up in the air. Some of these employers have formed a platform and have already demonstrated in the streets of Malaga city on two occasions.

Statements by regional officials have taken a clear turn in recent weeks, saying municipalities will be able to decide whether or not to allow filling and refilling of private swimming pools, so long as they are able to meet the 200 litres per inhabitant per day guideline.

What do politicians say?

Regional minister of agriculture Carmen Crespo made a statement along these lines a few days ago: "We always want to make the restriction measures more flexible, depending on the water capacity we have. Therefore, if they can be made more flexible, we are going to try to do so, always, but it will depend on the capacity of each municipality to save water. We are going to try to be as flexible as possible because this will benefit the population and it is also important."

Junta president Juanma Moreno said in recent days: "In Malaga we have increased the allowance per person; it is foreseeable that the filling of community pools will be allowed but it is difficult, although it will have to be the town councils who decide whether private pools can be filled right now. I know that with these rains there are many people who thought that everything had been resolved but we still have limitations."

Thousands of contracts for lifeguards, maintenance, gardens, training or reservations in tourist flats are up in the air

Meanwhile, Malaga's delegate at the Andalusian government Patricia Navarro said private and community pools cannot currently be filled or refilled and that it will be up to the local councils to decide according to their allowance when the situation is reviewed at the next drought committee.

Penélope Gómez, councillor for sustainability at Malaga city council, was cautious with her words last week: "Neither favourable nor unfavourable. We have a budget to meet. If it can be met, it will have to be determined and the calculations will have to be made."

"The allocation of 200 litres per inhabitant per day is the same allocation we had when we were previously at a severe level, which is when the decree in force on 16 November was issued. It is foreseeable that there will not be much more permissive measures, along the lines of the last decree," she added.

What do the Junta's decrees say?

"The use of water resources fit for human consumption is prohibited for the following uses: street cleaning, filling private swimming pools, watering gardens, public and private parks, golf courses, car washing outside authorised establishments, decorative fountains without a closed water circuit, showers and drinking fountains. Water not fit for human consumption may be used for the survival irrigation of gardens, public parks and golf courses, restricted to a maximum of 200 cubic metres per hectare per month." This is Decree 178/2021 of 15 June issued by the Junta de Andalucía in 2021. And what it prohibits is the filling of swimming pools with drinking water. And in it comes the first unclear wording: swimming pools cannot be filled with drinking water, but the use of non-potable water is not allowed among the assumptions.

The Junta's decrees prohibit filling with drinking water but do not include swimming pools in the uses of untreated water

New decrees have been made throughout the drought situation with the most recent at the start of this year: Decree-Law 2/2024 of 29 January. In this decree, it was added: "Exceptionally, and after a favourable pronouncement by the corresponding drought management commission, the use of water to fill swimming pools is limited to the following cases in a situation of severe shortage [...]." It adds the situation of those areas that move from the serious drought status to severe one. This would be the case of Malaga, Guadalhorce and the Western Costa del Sol. But the matter again clashes with public statements, as this is attributed to the drought committees, when the statements of the Junta's representatives now point to the town councils making the decisions.

This new framework includes up to 13 times the word "pools" to allow for the refilling of pools with recirculation systems only to replenish evaporation losses. It also makes allowances for new construction or those pools being repaired to prevent damage and educational facilities. The limitations do not apply to those filled with seawater as long as they do not discharge into public networks.

Municipal bylaws range from bans on filling, to drinking water and other ambiguous rules

This year's decree expressly prohibits swimming pools in single-family dwellings in exceptional drought situations. And exceptions are added which coincide with those made public by the drought committee on 14 March. Andalucía, unlike Catalonia, has made the framework more flexible and allows those of hotels, campsites, public, sports and therapeutic use and those with seawater.

What do the municipal guidelines say?

SUR has analysed those of the largest towns. The following municipalities prohibit filling or topping up pools with drinking water: Malaga, Vélez, Rincón, Alhaurín el Grande and Cártama. A general prohibition is included in the 11 municipalities of the Western Costa del Sol and Torrox. A third group, with limitations, is made up of Ronda, Alhaurín de la Torre or Coín.

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