When officials in Laguna Nigel, Calif., placed a $50,000 aquatics facility improvement project on hold, Tina Dittmar, aquatics supervisor, knew the economic crisis had officially hit home.

"We have the [project allocated in this year's] budget, but the city won't let us spend the money. It goes back to consumer confidence," she says. "I have spoken to some of our council members and they informed me that another reason the city is holding back on new spending is because the state is truly having financial difficulties and in a worst case scenario, the state is discussing the possibility of taking money out of city funds to make up for shortfalls in the state budget. It's almost unbelievable, but anything can happen."

Looking back, Dittmar says she first noticed a change last spring and summer. "When the gas prices went crazy, families began making small budget cuts," she says. "Usually we can't offer enough classes for preschoolers; [last year] we had openings in classes all summer. Now we're waiting to see what happens [this year]."

Moving forward, Dittmar expects new pool construction will remain slow, but adds that rehabilitation projects may be one exception. For new projects that remain in progress, anything that will significantly save energy or operational costs is worth considering, she says, but operators may need to gather community and political support.

What about the present? "I think if we're creative we can find an upside to this crisis," Dittmar says. For example, an inspired marketing strategy may be just enough to capture the attention, and limited entertainment dollars of the "staycationers."