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Water & Drought Update - Palo Alto Water Use Guidelines

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Drought Update

On May 18, 2016, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted a "Stress Test" approach to water conservation regulation. The adopted regulation, which will be in effect through January 2017, requires locally developed conservation standards based upon each agency’s specific circumstances. These standards require local water agencies to ensure a three-year supply assuming three more dry years like the ones the state experienced from 2012 to 2015. Water agencies that would face shortages under three additional dry years will be required to meet a conservation standard equal to the amount of shortage. For example, if a water agency projects it would have a 10 percent supply shortfall, their mandatory conservation standard would be 10 percent. Read more here.

On May 9, 2016, Governor Brown issued an executive order lifting mandatory water use reduction targets. The City of Palo Alto is waiting to hear from the State Water Resources Control Board about how conservation regulation will decided upon and enacted through the rest of the year.

On February 2, 2016, the State Water Board adopted an extended and revised emergency regulation to ensure that urban water conservation continues in 2016.  The regulation extends restrictions on urban water use through October 2016 while providing urban water suppliers more flexibility in meeting their conservation requirements.  Read more here.

Reminder: Irrigating landscape during or within 48 hours after a measurable rainfall is prohibited.  The City of Palo Alto considers .25 inch or more to be "measurable." Track current and past rainfall at

The ongoing drought is proving to be one of the most severe in California’s history, and the State has taken action to curb water use. 

Statewide Mandatory
25% Water Use Reduction: 

On April 1, 2015, Governor Brown announced California’s first ever mandatory statewide water use reduction. This executive action mandates the state’s more than 400 urban water supply agencies to reduce water consumption by 25 percent. The State Water Resources Control Board was tasked with determining how much water individual agencies will need to conserve in order to comply with the statewide mandate.

Water use reduction targets will be compared to 2013 water consumption. The percent reduction targets vary by community, based on a sliding scale in which agencies that have been conserving longer and used less water will have lower targets. Agencies with lower residential per capita water usage are asked to cut back less on water use than those with higher per capita use.

These mandatory water use reductions do not include agricultural use, but require campuses, golf courses and other large landscapes to make significant cuts in water use. It also places additional efficiency requirements on irrigation systems for new homes and developments.

  • June 1, 2015:  The mandatory water use reduction targets are now effective.

Palo Alto:  Palo Alto must reduce Citywide water consumption by 24% compared to 2013 levels. The graph below shows Palo Alto's weekly water use in comparison to the same period for 2013.

The Palo Alto City Council approved new water use restrictions at the May 11, 2015 City Council meeting. City officials acknowledge that outdoor water use must be reduced dramatically in order to meet this goal.

The most notable action affecting residents and businesses is a limit on landscape irrigation to no more than two days per week. Customers are allowed an irrigation schedule based on their property address:

  • Odd numbered addresses or no address can irrigate on Mondays and Thursdays;
  • Even numbered addresses can irrigate on Tuesdays and Fridays.

State Regulations Restricting Use of Potable Water

  • The City must reduce water use by 24% for the period June 1, 2015 through February 28, 2016 compared to 2013 usage and must report use on monthly basis to the State Water Resources Control Board.
  • Flooding or runoff is prohibited.
  • A shut-off valve is required for hoses used to wash vehicles, buildings, etc.
  • Applying water to driveways and sidewalks is prohibited, except where necessary to address an immediate health and safety need or to comply with a term or condition in a permit issued by a state or federal agency.
  • Water in fountains or other decorative water feature must be recirculated.
  • Irrigation of landscapes or turf during and within 48 hours after a measurable rainfall is prohibited. The City of Palo Alto considers .025 inch or more to be "measurable."  Track current and past rainfall at
  • Restaurants and other food service operations shall serve water to customers only upon request.
  • Hotels and motels shall provide guests with the option of choosing not to have towels and linens laundered daily.
  • Irrigating ornamental turf on public street medians is prohibited.
  • Landscape irrigation for new development must comply with state and local building codes.
  • Leaks must be fixed as soon as possible.

Additional City of Palo Alto Water Use Restrictions

  • Irrigating turf grass and ornamental landscapes more than two days per week is prohibited. 
    • Odd address or no address - Mondays and Thursdays. 
    • Even address - Tuesdays and Fridays.
  • Landscape irrigation is not allowed between 10 am and 6 pm, except for drip, soaker hose and hand watering.
  • Broken or defective plumbing and irrigation systems must be repaired or replaced within a reasonable period.
  • Potable water for construction uses is prohibited if non-potable water is available.

enforcement of the water use restrictions: 

The City will notify customers when incidents in conflict with these water use restrictions are observed. This may be through use of a door hanger, email, phone call or letter. Violations are subject to fines and potential use of a flow restrictor on the water service. The name, usage data and address of water use violators for whom fines have been issued or flow restrictors installed may also be subject to public disclosure under Gov. Code 6254.16(d).

Additional Actions:

  • The City hired a Water Waste Coordinator who is specifically dedicated to drought response actions. Contact our Water-Gas-Wastewater division at (650) 496-6982 or email to report leaks or other water waste.
  • The City developed a new mobile application to make it easy to report leaks or water waste. Download it for free at PaloAlto311 App on your smartphone or use the web form.

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 30%. 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 SCVWD's new landscape water calculator!

Palo Alto's Water:  Palo Alto's water is supplied by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) through the Hetch-Hetchy reservoir and distribution system.

To encourage more conservation, the City has increased its rebates, 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 in 2013. Please check this City webpage dedicated to the drought and water efficiency resources ( for updates. Customers can also contact us by email at with further questions.

The chart below shows Palo Alto's cumulative water savings since June 1, 2015. The trajectory line illustrates the water savings we will need to achieve for the rest of the reporting period in order to meet our 24% state-mandated goal.

Status Report on Palo Alto Water Use for since June 1, 2015 
Cumulatively since June 1, 2015, Palo Alto's water savings are about 31.1% compared to 2013 levels.

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.

Easy Ways To Save Water and Cut Costs

 Easiest Water-Saving Tips Ever

Recycled Water & Other Alternative Water Sources

 More About Your Palo Alto Water Supply

Additional News and Items Of Interest

  • Palo Alto Utilities Won the 2014 Silicon Valley 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.
  • 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, 2014. Participants enjoyed raffle prizes, live music, games and a chance to catch the "running toilet!"

 Now Playing! Very short videos to raise your water IQ:

More on hardscape washing:
The use of potable water to clean driveways and sidewalks (hardscape) is prohibited, except where necessary to address an immediate health and safety need or to comply with a permit issued by a state or federal agency. If you have, or think you may have, a health and safety need or a permit requirement, please contact the City at (650) 496-6982 or

If you have an immediate need to wash down a driveway or sidewalk you should contact the City 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 March 22, 2016