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Water & Drought Update - Palo Alto Water Use Guidelines

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Click here for a printable trifold brochure about current drought conditions and regulations.

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!

Palo Alto is participating in the 2015 Mayor's Challenge for Saving Water!  Pledge online and learn easy ways to conserve water.  Participants will be entered to win a Toyota Prius, among other prizes!

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

  • March 17: The State Water Resources Control Board adopted emergency drought regulations that limit landscape irrigation with potable water. Additionally, restaurants must serve drinking water only upon request and hotels and motels must allow guests to opt out of washing towels and sheets every day.
  • April 1: Governor Brown announced California’s first ever mandatory statewide water use reduction. The Governor’s executive action mandates that the state’s more than 400 urban water supply agencies reduce water consumption by 25 percent.


Statewide Mandatory 25% Water Use Reduction: The State Water Resources Control Board has been tasked with determining how much water individual agencies will need to conserve in order to comply with the statewide mandate. As we understand it now, water use reduction targets will be determined in relation to California’s overall 2013 water consumption. The percent reduction targets are expected to 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.

  • May 6: The State Board is expected to act on the new emergency water use regulations.
  • June 1: The mandatory water use reduction targets become effective.


Palo Alto:  Palo Alto already has water use regulations in place which restrict water waste and some uses of clean drinking water in fountains, for irrigation during the day, washing vehicles, sidewalks and driveways and construction activities. The City will continue to enforce these water use regulations in addition to new actions required by the State. The Palo Alto City Council will consider staff’s recommendation for implementation and enforcement of the new drought regulations at the May 11 City Council meeting.

The following water uses are currently 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.


Current enforcement of the 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. Contact him at 650-496-6968 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. Last year, the SFPUC asked its water customers, including Palo Alto, to voluntarily reduce water use by 10% and continued that 10% request into 2015. City-wide, Palo Alto successfully responded with a 16% water use reduction during that time period, and City facilities reduced water use 27%.

We will all need to step up our efforts to achieve an increased water use reduction target. We are asking all customers to pitch in wherever they can to help reduce overall City water use.

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 last year and 2013. You may hear different agencies asking for a wide variety of percent water use reductions. As the situation continues to rapidly evolve, staff will keep the community updated as new information becomes available. Please check this City webpage dedicated to the drought and water efficiency resources ( Customers can also contact us by phone at (650) 329-2161 or email at

The chart below 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 6% lower than it was in 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.

Easy Ways To Save Water and Cut Costs

  • Call our partners in water conservation, the Santa Clara Valley Water District, at (408) 630-2554 for free water-saving devices such as showerheads, shower timers and faucet aerators.
  • Rebate Levels are higher than ever for landscape conversions and many other water efficiency upgrades.
  • Residential Water Efficiency programs, rebates and resources - Apply today to take advantage of a temporary increase in rebate funding!
  • Commercial Water Efficiency programs, rebates and resources - Apply today to take advantage of a temporary increase in rebate funding!
  • Need to Report A Leak, Runoff or Waste?
  • Use the free PaloAlto311 App on your smartphone or web application to report water waste. It's easy and allows us to track reports and follow up with you.
  • Contact the City’s Water Waste Coordinator at 650-496-6968 or - or -
  • Customer Service at (650) 329-2161 - or -
  • Utilities Emergency Dispatch at (650) 329-2579
  • What else can you do inside your home? Check out this infographic to see how easy it is to save water indoors.
  • Our Awesome Customers Water-Smart Idea Hotline--send us your best water-saving tips and tricks; we'll post 'em!


Easiest Water-Saving Tips Ever


Additional Water Resources


About Your Palo Alto Water Supply

Additional News and Items Of Interest

  • 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.
  • 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, 2015. 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’s Water Waste Coordinator at 650-496-6968 or

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 April 9, 2015