From managing shower behavior to creative or expensive water-saving solutions, the unprecedented drought in California is forcing fitness facility operators to adapt in different ways.
The drought, now in its fourth year, led Governor Jerry Brown in April to impose mandatory water restrictions and order a 25 percent reduction in water usage. Violators are subject to $500 fines for outdoor water waste, and Brown recently called for $10,000 fines for the worst offenders.
Some fitness facility operators are converting exteriors with drought-resistant landscaping. Others are regulating or retrofitting shower facilities, pools and grass surfaces.
At Almaden Valley Athletic Club (AVAC) in San Jose, a 2,000-square-foot field was transformed into a hybrid synthetic and natural grass area.
"The pressure for us to make changes based on the drought came in a variety of forms: the state of California, internally for us wanting to do the right thing and we have a very locally based membership," AVAC General Manager Jeff Griffith-Jones said. "We wanted to act on behalf of our community members."
That process started with a paint job – literally – in July 2014 when the club hired a contractor to spray its dying lawn and cosmetically alter the field from brown to green. The spray did not harm the grass and improved aesthetics at the cost of nearly $4,000.
That conservation effort earned the AVAC national media attention, but the continued drought came with additional calls for sustainability from members and a price tag.
The AVAC replaced half of the painted field with artificial turf at the cost of $50,000. Griffith-Jones expects the synthetic surface to last for at least 10 years. It was a major financial decision for the club, and Griffith-Jones said there was some internal skepticism about the cost benefit before making the purchase decision.
"It's big," Griffith-Jones said of the cost. "It could buy a lot of treadmills, and that's a management salary for a year."
Griffith-Jones said the decision to go with artificial turf will pay off in long-term water savings and goodwill in the community.
The AVAC also hired a leak detection service for its pools, which were constructed in 1976. Griffith-Jones said a leak was discovered in its junior Olympic pool, and the repair helped conserve even more water.
In the showers, the AVAC is installing signs between each lower-flow showerhead requesting members limit use to three minutes. Strips of sandpaper-style grit tape on the shower floors include messaging reminding members to conserve water.
The AVAC is not the only facility choosing the artificial turf option.
At the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), the 7.7 acre Intramural Field adjacent to historic Pauley Pavillion is near the end of a five-month conversion process from natural grass to turf. School officials say the change will save approximately 6.5 million gallons of water per year.
In an ironic twist, UCLA Recreation management previously had to close the field for several months each year to replace worn or dying grass, or to dry out the field after rain storms. The conversion is expected to decrease costs and downtime from maintenance, according to the university.
The turf project is part of UCLA's Water Action Plan, which was revamped in 2014 after officials at the University of California announced that all campuses would cut water usage 20 percent per person by 2020. UCLA has ongoing projects installing low-flow plumbing fixtures and converting exteriors to drought-resistant landscapes.
"UCLA and the UC system have been preparing for an anticipated increase in droughts and critically dry years," UCLA Chief Sustainability Officer Nurit Katz said in a statement.
At The Sporting Club in San Diego, General Manager Anthony Macaluso took action to avoid the "water abuser" label.
"I'm sure if we don't show we've decreased water usage with our efforts, we'll get fined as well," Macaluso said.
The Sporting Club spent about $4,000 since the fourth quarter of 2014 on water conservation. Those measures include low-flow shower heads, automatic shut-off sensors for faucets and toilets, and policies limiting members to one towel per workout, shower and pool session.
Macaluso notified club members about those new policies by posting signs around the club and highlighting the changes in a newsletter. Overall, he said, members understand the changes because they live with water restrictions at home.
"We're a huge abuser of water, so I had to cut back," Macaluso said. "At health clubs, people won't care, and they will take a longer shower. We're high end and people expect it. It takes longer for them to shower, but I think they're using less water."
If the water restriction regulations become more strict, Macaluso said the club might have to shut down its three hot tubs. Unlike the facility's pool, the club's tubs are drained weekly.
"We're doing the best we can, and we know everyone is in the same boat this year," Macaluso said.