Water Conservation and Drought Updates

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California is in a drought and we are asking everyone to conserve water. The State of California’s mandatory water use regulations apply in Palo Alto, along with the City’s existing water use regulations.

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:

  • Washing driveways, sidewalks, buildings, structures, patios, parking lots or other hard surfaced areas except for immediate health or safety needs.
  • Irrigation during and within 48 hours of measurable rainfall.
  • 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 and Regional Water Use Restrictions

  • May 24, 2022: the State Water Resources Control Board adopted an emergency regulation that prohibits irrigation of non-functional turf with potable water in the commercial, industrial, and institutional sectors except as necessary to ensure the health of trees and other perennial non-turf plantings, or to the extent necessary to address an immediate health and safety need. The emergency regulation requires urban water suppliers, including Palo Alto, to implement the demand reduction actions in Stage II of their Water Shortage Contingency Plan. The demand reduction actions in Palo Alto’s Stage II are:

  • January 4, 2022: the State Water Resources Control Board adopted an emergency regulation that 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.
  • 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.

Palo Alto's Water Use Restrictions

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

The following potable water uses are prohibited in Palo Alto:

  • Flooding or runoff
  • Use of a hose without a hose nozzle or shut-off device
  • Non-recirculating fountain or other decorative water feature
  • Outdoor irrigation of ornamental landscapes* or turf between 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM (exception for drip irrigation, soaker hoses, & hand watering)
  • Construction when non-potable sources are available
  • Broken or defective plumbing and irrigation systems must be repaired or replaced within a reasonable period

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) on water use efficiency programs and education. Visit our Save Energy & Water page to view available resources. Learn more about the City's water supply by visiting our Water Resources page.

Help Save Water by Reporting Water Waste

Email: drought@cityofpaloalto.org

Phone:  (650) 496-6968

Web: Palo Alto 311 

Water FAQs

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

The Palo Alto community reduced water usage by 2% for the period July 1, 2021 to May 31, 2022, compared with the same period from July 1, 2019 to May 31, 2020.



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 City's Sustainability and Climate Action Plan (S/CAP) includes a key action 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 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. 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 may be levied

How Does Valley Water's Emergency Declaration Affect Palo Alto?

On June 9, 2021, Valley Water’s Board of Directors declared a water shortage emergency condition in Santa Clara County due to the extreme drought. The Board of Directors called for a mandatory 15% reduction in water use compared to 2019. Read Valley Water's drought FAQs here

The City of Palo Alto receives water from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) and not Valley Water, therefore the water supply situation is different for Palo Alto than other water retailers or cities in Santa Clara County. Palo Alto is complying with water use regulations and reduction requests from the State and SFPUC. We partner with Valley Water on conservation programs and initiatives to encourage wise water use regardless of drought conditions. 


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 drought@cityofpaloalto.org

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! 



*"Ornamental landscape” refers to landscaping for purely decorative purposes, which is distinguished from edible gardens or landscapes that are functional as well as aesthetic.