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Water & Drought Update - Palo Alto Water Use Guidelines


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City of Palo Alto Utilities Drought FAQ

Home Water Reports -
MyWater Customer Info Online
Received a Home Water Report? Log in to your MyWater portal to access your online home profile and detailed water use information. Your Home Water Report - the video!

Water Efficiency Rebates Temporarily Increased!

Rebates are increased to encourage water use reductions. Let's tackle that landscape project, appliance upgrade or fixture replacement. Apply soon!  Additional funding expires June 31, 2015.

Drought Update 2014-15

California:  On March 17, 2015, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) adopted new drought emergency regulations to combat severe drought conditions throughout the State of California. These regulations add to the emergency water use restrictions adopted by SWRCB on July 15, 2014. The original decision by the SWRCB prohibited specific water use and required that urban water suppliers such as the City of Palo Alto implement all requirements and actions of the stage of their Water Shortage Contingency Plan (part of their Urban Water Management Plan) that impose mandatory restrictions on outdoor irrigation with potable water. The original SWRCB resolution can be found online here

The new regulations introduce further restrictions, including:

  • Limiting irrigation to no more than two days per week;
  • No irrigation within 48 hours of measurable rainfall;
  • Restaurants and other food service establishments must only serve drinking water upon request;
  • Hotels and motels must launder towels and only upon request.

    The City of Palo Alto is currently determining how the additional (March 17 approved) regulations will be implemented and enforced. We expect to present recommendations to City Council on May 11. 

Santa Clara County: The Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD) is the water wholesaler to most cities and water retailers in Santa Clara County. While Palo Alto receives water from a different water supplier, the SFPUC, we work closely with SCVWD on conservation programs. The SCVWD has been asking its water retailers to reduce water use by 20%. View this Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD) Monthly Water Tracker Report for updates on water use and savings achieved county-wide and for individual water retailers.

Check out their new landscape water calculator!

Palo Alto:
  In response to emergency drought regulations approved by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) on July 15, 2014, the Palo Alto’s City Council adopted new water use restrictions for the City. Effective August 4, the following water uses are prohibited in Palo Alto:

  • Landscape irrigation between 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM, unless irrigation is applied by drip irrigation, soaker hoses, or hand watering.
  • Application of potable water to outdoor landscapes in a manner that causes runoff such that water flows onto adjacent property, non-irrigated areas, private and public walkways, roadways, parking lots, or structures.
  • Use of a hose that dispenses potable water to wash autos or other vehicles, except where the hose is fitted with a shut-off nozzle or device attached to it that causes it to cease dispensing water immediately when not in use.
  • Application of potable water to driveways and/or sidewalks, with exemptions for health, safety or state/federal permitting requirements. (For more on hardscape washing, see information at bottom of page.)
  • Use of potable water in a fountain or other decorative water feature, unless the fountain uses a recirculating system.
  • Use of potable water for consolidation of backfill and other nondomestic uses in construction if other water sources such as reclaimed water are available.
  • Any broken or defective plumbing, sprinklers, watering or irrigation systems which permit the escape or leakage of water. These shall be repaired or replaced as soon as possible.

On September 15, 2014, Palo Alto City Council adopted a plan for responding to violations of these water use restrictions. 

  • 1st Violation: Doorhanger/Email/Phone call to customer
  • 2nd Violation: Doorhanger/Email/Phone call to customer
  • 3rd Violation: Certified letter from the Utility Director notifying customer of violation and
  • potential future fines
  • 4th Violation or more: Fines  ($100 per infraction, per day) (PAMC 12.20.010)

Additional Actions:

  • The City hired a Water Waste Coordinator who is specifically dedicated to drought response actions. 
  • The free Palo Alto 311 App now allows water waste reporting. 

Palo Alto's
  Palo Alto's water is supplied by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) through the Hetch-Hetchy reservoir and distribution system. The SFPUC has asked its wholesale customers, including Palo Alto, for a 10% voluntary water use reduction. This request is based on local conditions of Hetch-Hetchy water supplies.

Our community has successfully responded to the request for water use reductions. To encourage more conservation, the City has increased its rebate amounts, offered new water efficiency programs, received two grants for innovative water-saving technologies from SCVWD and expanded customer outreach about water supply conditions.

How is Palo Alto Doing?
To monitor our progress toward meeting water use reduction goals, staff is closely tracking water use and comparing it to use for the same time last year and 2013. Our water supplier is calling for a 10% voluntary water use reduction based on current local hydrologic conditions. You may hear about the State and SCVWD asking for a 20% reduction. This chart shows what the volume of Palo Alto's water consumption would be at a 10% reduction, a 20% reduction and where our 2015 consumption currently ranks in relation to water usage in 2013 and 2014. Palo Alto cumulatively saved close to 16% through 2014, exceeding the 10% reduction goal requested from our water supplier.

Palo Alto's water use from January to March is almost 10% lower than it was in 2013. In 2014, City operations reduced water use from February through October by 27% compared to 2013. City departments are working to ensure that all aspects of operations reflect the need to conserve water, while still supplying sufficient water to the community's long-term investment that is our urban forest.


  • What does a 10% reduction look like? Landscape water use efficiency is one of the best ways to conserve the greatest volume of water. 
  • Spring is a good time to plant! Take advantage of our (usually) seasonal rains, but be careful about any fertilizer or pesticides used. Chemicals can runoff into our waterways and pollute the bay. Visit for tips on safe gardening practices.
  • Recycled water is available from the Regional Water Quality Control Plant for professional landscapers to use for irrigation.
  • What else can you do inside your home? Check out this infographic to see how easy it is to save water indoors.
  • SEIZE THE DAY! This is a good time for residents and businesses to keep calm and save water! Evaluate what you can do to improve water use efficiency---and take smart actions which make sense drought or no drought. Get the most mileage out of every drop!
  • REBATE LEVELS ARE HIGHER THAN EVER for landscape conversions and many other water efficiency upgrades. Check out the programs and services that make it possible for your home and business to be comfortable AND more efficient.

Leak Detection & Repair 
Learn How to Check for Leaks - Do you know how to check your home (or business) for leaks? View our easy steps with this short video





California’s Drought Information Clearinghouse 
Governor’s Proclamation of Drought Emergency
State’s Water Conservation Campaign, Save our Water
Local Government
Clearinghouse and Toolkit
California Department of Food and Agriculture,
Drought information
California Department of Water Resources
Current Water Conditions
California Data Exchange Center, Snow Pack/Water Levels
California State Water Resources Control Board, Water Rights,
Drought Info and Actions
California Natural Resources Agency,
Drought Info and Actions
California Department of Public Health, Drinking Water
CDPH Drinking Water Program
California State Water Project,
Small Business Administration Disaster Support:


Palo Alto Utilities Won the Silicon Valley 2014 Water Conservation Award--for our outstanding programs and leadership which have advanced water conservation in Silicon Valley. We couldn't have done it without you! Get the full scoop, including photo of headlining comedian Will Durst: here.

The Great Race for Saving Water Made a Splash!
Over 350 adults and kids of all ages turned out for this City-sponsored 5k fun run and walk on April 19. Participants enjoyed raffle prizes, live music, games and a chance to catch the "running toilet!" View our photo gallery online and be sure to join us next year!

Very short videos to raise your water IQ:

If you have an immediate need to wash down a driveway or sidewalk you may wish to contact Martin as soon as possible afterwards. This will help us respond to reports made about allegedly improper hardscape washing during drought conditions.

Additionally, the Utilities department offers the following guidelines in the event that cleaning with water is necessary for health and safety purposes:

  • Use water sparingly to spot clean areas where substances have accumulated.
  • Pick up or sweep away debris and dispose of it in trash bins before spraying with water.
  • Do not use water to push debris into the street, gutter, storm drains or neighboring properties.
  • Do not continuously run water while cleaning. Be sure to stop spraying before runoff to the gutter, street or neighboring properties occurs.
  • Use liners in compost and trash bins to avoid rinsing bins with water.
  • If feasible, coordinate any health and safety required washing with other properties on the block, preferably early in the morning.

(Tuolumne river photo courtesy of Catherine Elvert, Utilities Communications Manager.)

Last Updated December 17, 2014