Apply for a Cistern Rebate

Aboveground cistern About Cisterns: Popular for larger residential properties or commercial sites to irrigate landscapes. 

Rebate Amount: $1.00/gallon

Cost: $250–$6,000+

Size Requirement:
 200+ gallons

Installation Requirement:
 Must be installed by a licensed contractor.

 

                      City of Atlanta (Cistern)    

We know you're eager to get started, but make sure to read these steps first. You must apply before you purchase your cistern!


Online

Step 1.Submit your application before purchasing

  1. Apply for your rebate before you purchase your cistern. Cisterns that are already purchased or installed are not eligible for a rebate.
  2. Read the City of Palo Alto Terms and Conditions(PDF, 83KB).
  3. Create a Valley Water application portal account and complete the Stormwater Rebate Application.

Step 2.Application and design review 

  1. Valley Water and City of Palo Alto Watershed Protection staff confirm receipt of application and contact you to set up a pre-installation inspection. Staff may request additional information if deemed necessary. 
  2. Some cistern projects may require a permit to install. Please see “Do I need a City permit for installation of a cistern?” in the FAQ section below. If you have any questions, please contact the Development Center at (650) 329-2496 and select Option 3 for Building Plan Check Team when prompted.
  3. Watershed Protection staff will conduct a pre-installation inspection of the site where the cistern will be installed.
  4. Valley Water will issue a “Notice to Proceed” to install your cistern via email or mail if an email address is not available. If a City of Palo Alto permit is required, a “Notice to Proceed” will not be provided until the applicant has received the permit.

Step 3.Project installation and inspection

  1. Install cistern per specifications on submitted application and Rebate Program requirements.
  2. Contact Watershed Protection staff once the cistern has been fully installed to set up a post-installation inspection of your new cistern.

Step 4.Submit final documentation and receive your rebate!

  1. Submit all final documents through the Valley Water rebate application portal.
  2. Receive rebate payment from Valley Water within 6-8 weeks of final approval.

Start Your Cistern Application Process

Phone

Step 1.Submit your application before purchasing

  1. Apply for your rebate before you purchase your cistern. Cisterns that are already purchased or installed are not eligible for a rebate.
  2. Read the City of Palo Alto Terms and Conditions(PDF, 83KB).
  3. If you cannot access the online portal, contact the Valley Water Conservation Hotline at (408) 630-2554 or conservation@valleywater.org

Step 2.Application and design review

  1. Valley Water and City of Palo Alto Watershed Protection staff confirm receipt of application and contact you to set up a pre-installation inspection. Staff may request additional information if deemed necessary. 
  2. Some cistern projects may require a permit to install. Please see “Do I need a City permit for installation of a cistern?” in the FAQ section below. If you have any questions, please contact the Development Center at (650) 329-2496 and select Option 3 for Building Plan Check Team when prompted.
  3. Watershed Protection staff will conduct a pre-installation inspection of the site where the cistern will be installed.
  4. Valley Water will issue a “Notice to Proceed” to install your cistern via email or mail if an email address is not available. If a City of Palo Alto permit is required, a “Notice to Proceed” will not be provided until the applicant has received the permit.

Step 3.Project installation and inspection

  1. Install cistern per specifications on submitted application and Rebate Program requirements.
  2. Contact Watershed Protection staff once the cistern has been fully installed to set up a post-installation inspection of your new cistern.

Step 4.Submit final documentation and receive your rebate!

  1. Submit all final documents through the Valley Water rebate application portal. If you cannot access the online portal, contact the Valley Water Conservation Hotline at (408) 630-2554 or conservation@valleywater.org
  2. Receive rebate payment from Valley Water within 6-8 weeks of final approval.

Start Your Cistern Application Process

Frequently Asked Questions

Why should I install a cistern?

Cisterns are effective and easily-maintainable water capture and conservation devices.

Cisterns can be above-ground or below-ground tanks and are preferable for commercial or residential properties for irrigation. Cisterns can hold enough water to irrigate larger landscapes or water-intensive gardens. Watering plants with harvested water is a great alternative to the use of potable water.

Because they capture rainwater cisterns can also help slow the flow of runoff and street ponding during storms.

What are the requirements for a cistern rebate?

Requirements for a Cistern Rebate

Per Valley Water and the City of Palo Alto, the following requirements must be met to receive a cistern rebate:

  1. Cistern must have the following features:
    • Screened inlet connected (directly or indirectly) to a downspout for vector control
    • Overflow mechanism such as a diverter box
    • Secure lid for child safety and debris control
    • Material must be opaque to prevent algal blooms
    • Be made of hard plastic, fiberglass, or metal (collapsible/flexible cisterns are not allowed)
    • Capacity of 200 gallons or larger
  2. Property must have downspouts and gutters along the perimeter of the roof.
  3. Overflow water should be directed back into the downspout system, to a drain, or to a suitable rain garden that can absorb water onsite at an appropriate rate. Overflow should be directed away from building or neighboring properties.
  4. Cistern must be designed/installed for the intended purpose of rainwater capture.
  5. Cistern must not be located over or under shallow utilities (water, gas, electric), septic systems or near large trees. Locate utilities before digging by calling under-ground Service Alert as 811 or (800) 227-2600.
  6. Cistern must not block walkways and pathways, and not impede window egress or safe passages for travel.
  7. Cistern must be placed on a solid and level surface for stability.
  8. Cistern must be positioned in a way that allows the cistern to receive all water unimpeded from a downspout.
  9. Rainwater should not be harvested from roofs made of untreated metal (galvanized), copper, treated wood, lead flashing, or asbestos.
  10. Cistern must be located at least 3 feet from the building foundation.
  11. If your cistern meets any of the criteria listed under “Do I need a city permit for installation of a cistern?” below, you need to obtain appropriate permits from the City of Palo Alto Development Center.
  12. The City recommends that the cistern be safely secured to the building/structure if the height of the cistern is two times greater than the width. 

What are the components of a cistern?

Cisterns can be installed above-ground or below-ground. A typical cistern will include:Above ground cistern.PNG

  • An inlet connected to a downspout, a screen, an overflow pipe, a spigot, a vent, and a pump (optional). Water enters the cistern through the inlet.
  • Downspouts which carry water from gutters to the cistern.
  • The screen of the cistern prevents mosquitos and other insects from entering the tank. 
  • The overflow pipe which releases excess rainwater or diverts rainwater water into pervious surfaces like gardens.
  • The spigot allows access to the water stored in the cistern.
  • The vent cap allows fresh air to circulate through the vent pipe and storage compartment.
  • Cisterns may also contain a pump to move water to the spigot/outlet. Pumps may require permitting. See details under “Do I need a City permit for installation of a cistern?”
  • When deciding whether to install an above-ground or below-ground cistern, applicants should consider buoyancy and maintenance. 

below ground cistern.JPG

Where can I find a licensed contractor to install a cistern?

Rescape Qualified Professionals Directory
Rescape regularly updates a directory of local contractors that have completed any of their qualifying trainings. These trainings use a sustainable, holistic approach to the design and management of a landscape. They work with nature to conserve water and soil, reduce waste, and prevent pollution. You can find a Rescape Qualified Professional near you in this directory. The City is not responsible for any damage or construction mistakes caused by a contractor, landscape professional or any other individual.

Do I need a City permit for installation of a cistern?

Any cistern installation with the following features will require a building permit, or at minimum, a consultation with the City of Palo Alto Development Center before installation:

  • Below-ground cistern
  • Cistern will have a capacity greater than 5,000 gallons.
  • Cistern will have a pump, backflow device, or any other automatic feature. This includes an irrigation system.
  • Cistern will connect to potable water in any way.

To inquire about permitting, contact the Development Center at (650) 329-2496 and select Option 3 for Building Plan Check Team when prompted. Permit approval should be submitted at the time of your application.

How much of a rebate can I receive?

Applicants can receive a cistern rebate at a rate of $1.00/gallon. For example, a 200-gallon cistern would receive a $200 rebate. See table below for details. Each property has a maximum lifetime rebate cap. The lifetime rebate cap is the total rebate amount  that one property can receive across that property’s lifetime. This rebate cap includes funding received from other Valley Water and City rebates, including City of Palo Alto Utility water-saving rebates.

Type of Property Cistern Rebate City Lifetime Maximum Valley Water Lifetime Maximum
Total Lifetime Maximum
Residential $1.00/gallon
($0.50 from Valley Water and the City, each)
$1,000 $2,000 $3,000
Commercial
(includes multi-family properties)
$1.00/gallon
($0.50 from Valley Water and the City, each)
$5,000 $50,000 $55,000

 

How should I maintain my cistern?

Cisterns need little maintenance once installed. The Bay Area Stormwater Management Agencies Association (BASMAA) suggests that owners follow these simple steps to maintain their cistern:

  • Regularly check gutters to ensure that debris has not clogged the cistern.
  • Inspect the screens on the cistern before the wet season to make sure debris is not blocking the surface. Check that there are no holes allowing mosquitoes to enter the cistern. Inspect screens more frequently if there are trees that drop debris on the roof.
  • Clean out debris from cisterns once a year, at the end of the dry season.

References

  • Rescape Qualified Professionals Directory Rescape regularly updates a directory of local contractors that have completed any of their qualifying trainings.
  • Seattle RainWise Cistern Maintenance Guide This guide, produced by Seattle’s RainWise rebate program, details maintenance recommendations for cisterns. The City of Palo Alto is not responsible for any damage or construction mistakes as the result of an unlicensed contractor.
  • BASMAA Rain Barrel and Cistern Fact Sheet This short guide offers additional information about rain barrels and cisterns to guide new users’ maintenance. The City does not take responsibility for the material and recommendations made in this resource.
  • City of Portland Cistern Fact Sheet This fact sheet provides additional information on above-ground and below-ground cisterns. This resource offers additional images of below-ground cisterns. The City does not take responsibility for the material and recommendations made in this resource.

 

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