As the hot, dry summer progresses, we are all looking for water. But about 10,000 Utahns who are lucky enough to own swimming pools need look no further than their own back yards.

Don Ludlow of Dolphin Pools in Salt Lake City has been building back-yard pools for 37 years. He's seen the swimming pool go from a status symbol that only the most wealthy professionals could afford to a family fun center easily within reach of any middle-income family.Something else has changed over the years. Pools have become much easier to maintain. "They've gone from an absolute headache to a dream," says Ludlow. Because of the automatic chlorinator, the automatic vacuum and the automatic cover he has on his pool, Ludlow estimates he spends only 20 minutes a week taking care of it.

Three decades ago pools came in two sizes. They were either 15 feet wide and 30 feet long or 20 feet wide and 40 feet long. Now, Ludlow says, nearly every pool he builds is a standard 17 feet wide and 34 feet long. The cost is fairly standard, too. A pool costs $18,000, or $23,000 with automatic cover.

Frank Bjorndal, owner of Aquatech Pool and Spas, mentions other improvements he's noticed since his company first began building pools in 1952. "The cost to maintain a pool has come down drastically," he says. He cites energy efficient pumps, filtration and heating systems as well as cheaper (and safer) chemicals as the reasons.

Bjorndal agrees with Ludlow that pools aren't considered luxuries anymore. "We call them recreational," he says. He adds that, unlike other big ticket recreational items such as boats or campers or memberships in a spa, you don't have to load, pack, or drive to enjoy a swimming pool.

Ludlow looks at his pool as an investment in his family. He says he can't put a value on the hours of family togetherness and fun with friends around the water. But as far as a monetary investment goes, he says a pool is actually not a bad deal compared to other major purchases.

"Sure you probably won't recover what you paid for it," he says. "But if you bought a car that costs as much as a pool and used it for 20 years you'd be lucky to get $500 for it."

Ludlow remembers a time when no one he knew had a back-yard pool, back in the days when he was a little boy and the Deseret Gym was offering 12 lessons for $2 and he wanted to take them.

His father couldn't afford to send him.

And as a result, Ludlow never learned to swim. He's had plenty of chances to learn as an adult, but he never has. ("I guess it's true that you can't teach old dogs anything," he says.)

The fact that all of his five children are good swimmers and safe in the water is, for Don Ludlow, the greatest recommendation possible for owning a swimming pool.