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Water & Drought Update - Palo Alto Water Use Guidelines

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Drought Update

Due to the ongoing water supply situation in California and the need to be prepared for more dry years ahead, Palo Alto's water supplier has requested that the City achieve a 10% water conservation target compared to 2013. By complying with State and City water use restrictions and by using water in a mindful way, the Palo Alto community will be able to reach our water savings goal.


Although the state received more precipitation during the 2015/2016 rainy season, water supply continues to be a challenge in California.

Executive Order by Governor Brown

On May 9, 2016, Governor Brown issued an executive order directing the State Water Resources Control Board to adjust and extend its emergency water conservation regulations through the end of January 2017 in recognition of the differing water supply conditions for many communities.

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 from June 1, 2016 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 shortage amount. For example, if a water agency projects that it would have a 10 percent supply shortfall, their mandatory conservation standard would be 10 percent. For Palo Alto, the water conservation target requested by the City's water supplier is greater than the conservation target required by the State, and so takes precedence. Click here to read more.

Palo Alto:  Palo Alto's water supplier has requested a 10% reduction in Citywide water consumption compared to 2013 levels.  The graph below shows Palo Alto's weekly water use in comparison to the same period 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.

The Palo Alto City Council approved new permanent water use restrictions at the May 16, 2016 City Council meeting. Several additional State water use restrictions will also be in effect through at least January 2017.  There are currently no restrictions on which day of the week residents can water.

State Regulations Restricting Use of Potable Water

  • 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.
  • Irrigating outdoors is prohibited during and within 48 hours after a measurable rainfall.
  • 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.
  • Irrigation of ornamental turf on public street medians is prohibited.
  • Landscape irrigation for new development must comply with state and local building codes.

Additional City of Palo Alto Water Use Restrictions

  • Flooding or runoff is prohibited.
  • A shut-off valve is required for hoses used to wash vehicles, buildings, etc.
  • Potable water for construction uses is prohibited if non-potable water is available.
  • Broken or defective plumbing and irrigation systems must be repaired or replaced within a reasonable period.
  • Turf and ornamental landscape* irrigation is not allowed between 10 am and 6 pm, except for hand watering with a bucket or a hose with a shut-off valve.
  • Water in fountains or other decorative water feature must be recirculated.
  • Potable water for street sweepers/washers is prohibited if non-potable water is available.
  • Commercial car washes must use recycled water systems if economically feasible.

Current enforcement of the water use restrictions: 

The City will notify customers when incidents of 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.

For the most up-to-date information on drought conditions, water use restrictions and conservation resources, visit

*“Ornamental landscape” refers to landscaping for purely decorative purposes, to be distinguished from edible gardens or landscapes that provide a function beyond aesthetics.

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 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.

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

  • The Great Race for Saving Water Made a Splash! 
    Hundreds of adults and kids of all ages turned out for this City-sponsored 5k fun run/ walk and Earth Day festival on April 30, 2016. Participants enjoyed raffle prizes, live music, games and a chance to catch the "running toilet!" We hope you will join us next year!
  • 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.

 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) 496-6968 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 May 24, 2016