Landscape Efficiency Standards

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Frequently Asked Questions

The State Department of Water Resources requires cities and counties in California to enforce a Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance or local ordinance that is at least as effective as the State's model ordinance in terms of achieving water savings. The City of Palo Alto integrated its outdoor water use efficiency guidelines into the adoption of the State Green Building Standards Code (CALGreen)

New construction and renovation projects that include landscaping must comply with State and City requirements for landscape water efficiency. Please refer to the City of Palo Alto's
Development Services Division for the most current requirements of the City's Green Building Program. New construction and renovation landscape projects in Palo Alto must comply with the following standards. 

Please feel free to
contact us with questions or for more information.

Non-Residential Projects

Meet the Mandatory plus Tier 1 or Tier 2 requirements for Outdoor Water Efficiency and Conservation in the CALGreen Code based upon project scope. 

  • Tier 1: All projects when a landscape area included in the scope of the project is greater than 1,000 square feet.
  • Tier 2: Landscapes of any size when the project is a new construction, rebuild, or addition with greater than 1,000 square feet of building area.
  • Complete the Landscape Water Use Statement and Water Use Calculations forms.
  • Submit landscape and irrigation plans that demonstrate a design and construction plan that meet the landscape water efficiency requirements per project scope and match the water use calculations forms.
  • Demonstrate that "purple pipe" irrigation plumbing will be installed for use of recycled water for irrigation if required.

Residential Two-Family and Single-Family

Projects that are new construction, rebuilds and additions greater than 1,250 square feet of building area and a landscape area greater than 5,000 square feet. Residential projects are subject to the Build It Green (BIG) Green Point Rated (GPR) requirements.

  • Select a minimum 15 points in water efficiency from the Landscape Section of the GPR checklist. 
  • -- OR –
  • Choose to comply with the Department of Water Resources Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance.

Recycled Water

All applications other than single-family residences within the boundaries of a recycled water project area or which include a total landscape area greater than 1,500 square feet shall comply with the City of Palo Alto Ordinance No. 5002: Palo Alto Municipal Code Chapter 16.12.030: New construction; recycled water use for irrigation. Refer to Chapter 16.12 of the Palo Alto Municipal Code.

Background:
On June 12, 2008 the Palo Alto City Council adopted Ordinance No. 5002. This ordinance sets design standards for the use of recycled water for irrigation systems for non-residential construction projects. Non-residential landscape projects that must comply with the City of Palo Alto Landscape Water Efficiency requirements must also adhere to the recycled water guidelines. This ordinance includes the requirement for installation of a dedicated irrigation water meter and backflow prevention device. For more information on the recycled water requirements, view the
Recycled Water Ordinance No. 5002.

In areas of Palo Alto that are served, or will be served, by recycled or reclaimed water, all PVC irrigation pipe and fittings shall be manufactured with purple coloring and be noted as intended for reclaimed water use.

Rebates and Workshops

The City of Palo Alto Utilities Department offers workshops and rebates to assist you in this effort.

Palo Alto's Water

Find updates on water supplies, projects and programs here.

Water Efficient Landscape Design Resources

Frequently Asked Questions about Palo Alto's Landscape Water Efficiency Requirements

  1. What are the requirements for Non-Residential Projects?
    1. Non-residential projects are subject to the State Green Building Code (CALGreen) outdoor water use efficiency standards with local Palo Alto amendments.
  2. When does a non-residential project need to comply with the various tiered requirements?
    1. Tier 1: All projects when a landscape area included in the scope of the project is greater than 1,000 square feet.
    2. Tier 2: Landscapes of any size when the project is a new construction, rebuild, or addition with greater than 1,000 square feet of building area.
  3. What are the requirements for the different tiers?
    1. Tier 1 Requirements: tenant improvement projects of greater than 5,000 square feet building area, and any other project that does not meet other criteria but has a valuation greater than $25,000 and requires a major or minor Architectural Review. Note, landscape area greater than 1,000 square feet.
      1. Water budget, landscape and irrigation design plans, water use calculations
      2. Evapotranspiration Adjustment Factor (ETAF) of 60%, shown in calculations and in plans.
      3. A dedicated irrigation meter is required.
      4. Weather-based irrigation controllers for irrigation system controls.
      5. Minimum 70% irrigation efficiency.
      6. Low volume and/or sub-surface irrigation in areas less than 8 feet wide or with a greater than 25% slope, or within 24 inches of a non-permeable surface such as a setback.
      7. If landscape area is greater than 1,500 square feet, project must show infrastructure for planned use of recycled water.
    2. Tier 2 Requirements:  new construction, rebuilds and additions when building area is greater than 1,000 square feet and landscape is included in project scope. Note, landscape area of any size.
      1. Water budget, landscape and irrigation design plans, water use calculations
      2. Evapotranspiration Adjustment Factor (ETAF) of 55%, shown in calculations and in plans.
      3. If landscape is greater than 1,000 square feet, a dedicated irrigation meter is required.
      4. Weather-based irrigation controllers for irrigation system controls.
      5. Minimum 70% irrigation efficiency.
      6. Low volume and/or sub-surface irrigation in areas less than 8 feet wide or with a greater than 25% slope, or within 24 inches of a non-permeable surface such as a setback.
      7. If landscape area is greater than 1,500 square feet, project must show infrastructure for planned use of recycled water.
  4. Who reviews non-residential projects for compliance?
    1. City staff ensure all necessary documentation is submitted to verify compliance with the State and City requirements for CALGreen and local Palo Alto amendments. A certified landscape architect carefully reviews landscape planting and irrigation plans to ensure water use calculations are accurate and meet the water efficiency guidelines. City staff oversee this review.
  5. What are the requirements for residential projects?
    1. Residential projects are subject to the Build It Green (BIG) requirements. Please refer to the BIG Green Point Rated Checklist. Residents must select a minimum of at least 15 points Landscape water efficiency from the BIG Green Point Rated (GPR) checklist.
    2. --OR--
    3. Comply with the State Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance and submit all documentation as specified in the ordinance.
  6. When does a residential project need to comply with the various tiered requirements?
    1. Residential new landscapes with 5,000 square feet or greater are subject to these requirements.
  7. Who reviews residential landscape projects for compliance?
    1. Residential projects are typically reviewed by Green Point Raters throughout the community.
  8. Where can I find information on the requirements for use of recycled water in Palo Alto?
    1. Refer to Chapter 16.12 of the Palo Alto Municipal Code.
  9. When does a project need to comply with the recycled water requirements?
    1. Landscape Irrigation Infrastructure: all non-residential new construction and renovation projects with a landscape area greater than 1,500 square feet.
    2. Plumbing Infrastructure: all non-residential new construction and remodels of large buildings in excess of 100,000 square feet or 100 toilets and urinals.
  10. What are the requirements for recycled water infrastructure and use?
    1. Landscape Irrigation Infrastructure:
      1. Separate irrigation system with the required recycled water infrastructure, including “purple pipe” for recycled water use.
      2. Dedicated irrigation meter.
      3. All above-grade irrigation fixtures, including sprinkler heads, valve and meter boxes, etc. must be “purple pipe”.
      4. Landscape and irrigation design plans must clearly show “purple pipe” and indicate that recycled water will be used for landscape irrigation when it becomes available.
      5. Plant selection must consider use of plants suitable for irrigation with recycled water.
    2. Plumbing Infrastructure:
      1. Additional indoor plumbing requirements may be necessary for large buildings in excess of 100,000 square feet or 100 toilets.
      2. Dual-plumbing using “purple pipe” for flushing toilets and urinals.
  11. Where can I find more information on resources for recycled water use?
    1. Palo Alto's Recycled Water System
    2. Non-potable water reuse specifications in Chapter 16 of the California Plumbing Code (2013)
    3. Landscape guide to using recycled water for irrigation from South Bay Water Recycling
  12. Who can I talk to at the City for more information on the State and City requirements for water efficiency?
    1. Contact the City's water conservation specialist at (650) 329-2417 or catherine.elvert@cityofpaloalto.org

Last Updated: Mar 1, 2016