Water Conservation and Drought Updates

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Palo Alto's Water Shortage Contingency Plan - Stage 1

On March 7, 2022, the City of Palo Alto Council implemented water use restrictions in Stage I of Palo Alto’s Water Shortage Contingency Plan(PDF, 125KB) . Stage I is designed for cutbacks up to 10%. The three additional water waste restrictions are:

  1. Prohibiting the application of potable water to hardscapes (except when health and safety are at risk); and
  2. Prohibiting the application of potable water to irrigate turf and ornamental landscapes during and within 48 hours after measurable rainfall of at least one fourth of one inch of rain; and
  3. Prohibiting the use of potable water for irrigation of ornamental turf on public street medians.

Palo Alto’s rainfall measurement is available through Valley Water's Precipitation Gauge webpage.

It is important to water your trees during drought, For more information and tree care tips please see Tree Care Resources.

Mandatory Statewide Water Use Restrictions

On January 4, 2022, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted an emergency regulation that prohibits certain wasteful water use practices statewide and encourages Californians to monitor their water use more closely while building habits to use water wisely. In addition to water wasting activities already permanently restricted in Palo Alto, the emergency regulation prohibits irrigating within two days of a rain event and washing hardscapes with potable water unless there is a health and safety need. The state regulations also ensure that Homeowners’ Associations (HOAs) don’t unlawfully restrain homeowners from taking water conservation actions.  For more information see the Fact Sheet for Drought Conservation Emergency Regulation – January 2022: Frequently Asked Questions.

Regional Water Shortage Emergency

California is experiencing dry weather conditions, and everyone is being asked to conserve water. On November 23, 2021, the City’s water supplier, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) declared a water shortage emergency for the Regional Water System and is asking customers to reduce water use.

Water Conservation is a Way of Life

The City recognizes the importance of making water conservation a way of life at all times. We partner with Valley Water and the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA) to deliver rebates for water efficient landscaping upgrades as well as products and projects that conserve water and reduce storm water runoff. Visit our Save Energy & Water page to view available water efficiency resources. Learn more about the City's water supply by visiting our Water Resources page and reading the City's Annual Water Quality Report(PDF, 5MB).

Palo Alto's Permanent Water Use Restrictions

Water waste in Palo Alto is prohibited. Read about the City's water use regulations in the Palo Alto Municipal Code Section 12.32.010

  • Flooding or runoff is prohibited
  • 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 10am and 6pm, except for hand watering with a bucket or a hose with a shut-off valve
  • 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
  • Water in fountains or other decorative water features must recirculate
  • Commercial car washes must recirculate water systems if economically feasible
  • Potable water for street sweepers/washers is prohibited if non-potable water is available

*"Ornamental landscape” refers to landscaping for purely decorative purposes, which is distinguished from edible gardens or landscapes that are functional as well as aesthetic. (Read about the City's water use regulations in the Palo Alto Municipal Code Section 12.32.010)

** While the Statewide Mandatory Water Use Restrictions and Palo Alto’s Stage 1 Water Use Restrictions are in effect, washing of hardscapes, including buildings, with potable water is prohibited, except where health and safety are at risk.

Help Save Water by Reporting Water Waste

Email: drought@cityofpaloalto.org

Phone: Leave a voicemail at (650) 496-6968

Web: Palo Alto 311

Contact Us

Email: UtilityPrograms@cityofpaloalto.org

Phone: (650) 329-2241

Water FAQs

How are you enforcing the water use restrictions?

The current focus is on education and outreach including reminding customers about permanent water use restrictions and providing resources to achieve efficient water use. Many calls and emails come from residents who report runoff, leaks, or other observations of perceived water waste. The City offers a web and mobile application tool for reporting water waste through PaloAlto311. When we receive information about potential water waste, we attempt to contact the customer and use door hangers when we are unable to speak with the customer.

If the drought worsens, enforcement will increase.

  • 1st incident: Doorhanger/Email/Phone call to customer
  • 2nd incident: Doorhanger/Email/Phone call to customer
  • 3rd incident: Certified letter from the Utility Director notifying customer of violation and potential future fines
  • 4th incident: Fines 

How does the Governor’s declaration affect Palo Alto?

Governor Newsom issued a Drought Executive Order on July 8th calling on all Californians to voluntarily reduce water usage. There are no mandatory water use reductions in place. Palo Alto is responding appropriately to this and to the SFPUC’s water shortage emergency declaration with increased outreach and education to encourage wise water use across the city.

How is Palo Alto doing with respect to reducing water use?

The Palo Alto community reduced water usage by 3% for the period July 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022, compared with the same period from July 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020.


Is Palo Alto impacted by Valley Water’s emergency declaration?

Palo Alto does not receive water from Valley Water and is not directly impacted by Valley Water’s supply shortage. On June 9, the water supplier for most of Santa Clara County, Valley Water, declared a water shortage emergency and adopted a 15% mandatory water use reduction for water retailers its agency serves. While the drought is impacting the entire state, individual water systems are experiencing system-specific challenges.

What are some ways Palo Alto residents can conserve water?

Outdoor water use makes up the majority of a household's overall water consumption. Regularly checking for leaks and landscape water efficiency are great ways to conserve a large volume of water. We partner with Valley Water on a variety of outdoor water conservation programs that will help you conserve water outdoors.

Efficient indoor water use is important too. Be sure to regularly check for leaks and replace old toilets and clothes washers with new, efficient models. Valley Water provides low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators and automatic shut-off hose nozzles free of charge. Visit the Valley Water Shopping Cart online to request these items free of charge. CPAU’s Home Efficiency Genie is another great resource for tips on improving the efficiency of your home. Contact the Genie at (650) 713-3411 for a free over-the-phone consultation.

How can we protect our trees during the drought?

We want to remind people to continue irrigating trees during the drought. Trees represent high-value landscape that requires a long-term, significant investment. A healthy urban canopy offers many benefits to the community and environment. Visit Canopy's online Tree Library to pick drought resistant trees before planting. Canopy also provides watering instructions, tree care guides, and more.

How can businesses save water?

Businesses can participate in our water-saving programs and receive free installation of toilets, urinal flush valves, pre-rinse spray valves for dishwashing, low-flow faucet aerators, showerheads, and rebates for upgrading other appliances and equipment. Visit Valley Water’s rebates page to learn more about the resources available to businesses in Palo Alto.

How is the City planning for more water resiliency in the future?

The 2020 S/CAP update is underway, and a key action is to develop a plan for implementing a One Water portfolio. The One Water approach to integrated water resource planning will take a broader, more comprehensive look at water supply options including green stormwater infrastructure, recycled water and other non-potable water sources to supplement and preserve the potable water supply.

How can the community provide the City with feedback or ask questions?

City of Palo Alto staff are always interested in hearing from the community. Your feedback is welcome. Please feel free to share your comments, suggestions and/or questions with us at UtilitiesCommunications@cityofpaloalto.org Thank you for the opportunity to share information on this subject.

Remember, it is important to use water wisely every day, regardless of drought conditions. Thank you for doing your part to help Palo Alto meet its water efficiency goals!