Facing historic drought, increased attention is turning to water reuse opportunities. The information below is provided to help customers in the Regional Water Quality Control Plant (RWQCP) service area understand the value of recycled water and other water reuse and capture opportunities. The RWQCP service area includes: East Palo Alto Sanitary District, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, Palo Alto and Stanford University.
What is Recycled Water?
Recycled water is highly treated wastewater that meets rigorous California Code of Regulations standards. Recycled water is a local and more sustainable source of water for irrigation than drinking water. Every gallon of recycled water used on landscaping saves a gallon of potable water for drinking and other uses.
Learn more about Palo Alto's recycled water by checking the following documents:
Recycled Water Factsheet(PDF, 4MB)
Recycled Water Coast to Coast: Transforming Water, Sustaining Our Future(PDF, 779KB)
What can Palo Alto Recycled Water be used for?
Recycled water is clean and safe (for non-potable water usage) and can be used for irrigating food crops, including root crops, where water has direct contact with the plant, parks and playgrounds, school yards, residential and commercial landscaping, golf courses and more.
"Irrigating San Francisco Bay Area Landscapes with Recycled Water" is an easy-to-use 20-page document that includes a plant list for the Bay Area. This guide is a tool to help landscape owners, designers, and managers use recycled water effectively and successfully in San Francisco Bay Area landscapes.
Is the quality of Recycled Water good?
Yes, and getting better! Palo Alto’s recycled water has been used on almost all plants and grasses successfully for many years. However, it is saltier than the drinking water supply. It is not recommended for Redwood trees or other salt-sensitive plant species, refer to the Redwood Tree Monitoring Study 2009-2016 Factsheet(PDF, 4MB). To know more about recycled water quality see the monthly Recycled Water Quality Analysis.
In December 2019, the City of Palo Alto signed an Agreement with Valley Water and the City of Mountain View to increase water reuse in the Santa Clara County. As part of this Agreement, the City is moving forward with implementation of a local salt removal facility (also referred to as the Local Advanced Water Purification System) to be located at the RWQCP.
For more information on the plan for this new facility, refer to the Advanced Water Purification System Feasibility Study and the Preliminary Design Report.(PDF, 11MB)
Is Recycled Water Safe?
Yes, the California State Water Resources Control Board’s Division of Drinking Water has very high treatment standards and regulatory oversight for recycled water. Palo Alto’s recycled water meets all state standards for water used for irrigation and other uses with similar public exposure. Palo Alto’s recycled water is not for drinking or swimming.
For people that could come into contact with recycled water for irrigation and similar uses, WateReuse prepared a Risk Assessment Study that estimated health risks from exposures to pharmaceutical and personal care products potentially found in recycled water. To know more, click on the following links:
Stormwater Capture and Use
Stormwater is rain that flows over the ground into creeks and San Francisco Bay. Capturing stormwater can offset the need for potable water used for irrigation. Stormwater capture rebates from the City of Palo Alto help residents and businesses harvest rainwater using cisterns, rain barrels, green roofs and permeable pavement.
“Graywater Capture” and “laundry-to-landscape”
Graywater is water captured from washing machines, bathtubs and showers that can be used for irrigation (graywater does not include water from kitchens or toilets). Laundry-to-landscape directly connects washing machine water to a landscaped area for irrigation. Visit the Residential Water Conservation page for more information on the City of Palo Alto's graywater rebates and classes.
Can I get recycled water from the RWQCP for commercial or residential irrigation?
Currently, recycled water is available for pickup at the RWQCP overhead standpipe for permitted users only. There is no charge for the water itself, however customers need permits to obtain and use recycled water. Permittees must be located within the service area of the RWQCP, which includes the City of Palo Alto, East Palo Alto Sanitary District, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, and Stanford University. The permittees need to meet the requirements (listed in the Permit Application) for obtaining, using and distributing recycled water.
Information for residential customers
The City of Palo Alto continues to offer recycled water for residents. Residents can apply to get a permit to use recycled water from the RWQCP.
- Residents must live within the RWQCP service area: City of Palo Alto, East Palo Alto Sanitary District, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View and Stanford University
- A permit is required to pick-up recycled water
- To control traffic at the RWQCP, we provide access to residents to the standpipe from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Friday
- Residents should bring their own totes, minimum size 50 gallons and with water-tight lids to avoid spills during transportation. Garbage cans are not acceptable
What is the process to become a Permitted User?
Submit a $50.00 check or money order payable (cash is not accepted) to the City of Palo Alto to the RWQCP Water Quality Administration Building located at 2501 Embarcadero Way, Palo Alto, CA 94303. The RWQCP is still closed to the public, to submit your check in person an appointment must be made. Please call (650) 329-2122 or email email@example.com to make an appointment. Applications will not be processed until payment is received. Upon receiving the complete application and payment, RWQCP staff will review the application for completeness and proper use of recycled water.
After the Permit Application is approved, customers that will be handling recycled water will be provided training and training materials(PDF, 3MB) prior to the use of recycled water.
Permitted users must submit a Recycled Water Pick-up Log Form to the RWQCP on the fifth of each month.
- Read and complete the User Guidelines and Application(PDF, 352KB). Submit your application via:
How can I receive recycled water if I am not a Permitted User?
Residents and businesses can hire a recycled water hauler (permitted user) to deliver recycled water. A representative (e.g., tenet, owner, property manager, etc.) for each location must fill out Form A – Use of Recycled Water on Private Properties Statement. The form can be submitted via:
Can I use recycled water for power washing applications?
Yes, applicant must fill out Form B – Use of Recycled Water in Washdown Applications. The form can be submitted via:
Can I get recycled water piped to my house or business?
Currently, residents and businesses cannot connect to the recycled water pipeline. The City has not yet designated a recycled water project area as defined in the Municipal Code. For more information check out the City of Palo Alto Municipal Code Recycled Water Section.
Learn how the RWQCP is working to expand the recycled water distribution system on the Recycled Water Pipeline and Strategic Plan page.
I see groundwater pumped from construction sites into storm drains. Is this okay?
Yes. During the construction of a basement or underground garage there is sometimes a shallow aquifer that must be temporarily pumped into storm drains to allow construction to move forward. This groundwater is not the same water that would be used for drinking water and it would otherwise still travel to creeks and San Francisco Bay as stormwater if it was not pumped there first. This water is important to the creek and Bay ecosystems.
Since this water can be used for dust control, vehicle washing and tree irrigation, it can be obtained from these sites via water trucks or vehicle mounted tanks.
For more information on groundwater pumping on construction sites, contact Public Works Senior Engineer, Mike Nafziger (650) 617-3103.
FAQ: Frequently asked questions
Note: Typically, groundwater pumping does not occur during the rainy season (November through March).
In light of worsening drought conditions, we ask our residents and businesses to conserve more water and keep consumption below previous years.
The City of Palo Alto in partnership with Valley Water offers a variety of rebates, services and resources to make your home water efficient. There are rebates available for energy landscaping upgrades as well as products and projects to reduce stormwater runoff and conserve water.
Additionally, the City of Palo Alto offers recycled water for permitted commercial users and residents at the Regional Water Quality Control Plant. Please visit the How to Get Recycled Water tab to learn how to get a permit.