Water Efficiency


Water is a precious resource in California that you can help conserve. State and local water use restrictions are in place to help you do so.

Learn more about the City's water supply and water quality by visiting our Water Resources page.

Spring 2023 Water Supply Condition Update

California received record rain and snowfall levels in early 2023. While that is a relief to our State following multiple years of drought, it is important to remember that California is in a Mediterranean climate zone and it is important to use water wisely every day, regardless of rain or drought.

According to meteorological data, Santa Clara County is no longer officially in a drought. View the current status by county at the US drought monitoring website.

Recent Actions Related to Drought: 

  • April 11:  Palo Alto’s water supplier, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), rescinded the Water Shortage Emergency Declaration. The voluntary San Francisco Regional Water system-wide water use reduction of 11% remains in place until the State’s emergency regulation expires in June.
  • March 24:  Governor Newsom eased some of the State's drought restrictions as a result of the rain and snowfall in early 2023 that drastically improved drought conditions in many parts of California. The Governor’s recent action eased some emergency drought provisions while preserving others to support impacted communities and build up long-term water resilience.

The State is taking action to boost water supplies through groundwater recharge, stormwater capture, reservoir storage, and more. For more information, read the State's press release

Palo Alto’s water use restrictions track both the State’s regulation and SFPUC’s water use reduction. We must remember to embrace water-wise habits regardless of weather conditions. The City of Palo Alto’s permanent water use restrictions prohibiting wasteful actions remain in effect. 

Palo Alto's Water Use Restrictions

On June 20, 2022, the City of Palo Alto Council implemented additional water use restrictions to follow State requirements and align with County actions. 

Water Use Rules for All Customers

Read about the City's permanent water use regulations in the Palo Alto Municipal Code Section 12.32.010

  • Know your watering days. Only water outdoors on the two days designated by the watering schedule.
    • Addresses ending in an odd number: Monday and Thursday
    • Addresses ending in an even number: Tuesday and Friday
    • Numberless properties: Monday and Thursday 
    • Watering days do not apply to ensure the health of trees and other perennial non-turf plantings. It is important to water your trees during a drought. For more information and tree care tips please visit our Tree Care Resources page.
  • Water when it’s cool outside. Ornamental landscape or turf watering is only allowed before 10 am and after 6 pm, except via hand watering with a bucket or hose with an shut-off valve.
  • Always use a hose with a nozzle. Make sure that the nozzle shuts off automatically when the handle is released for watering landscapes.
  • Don’t let water run into streets or gutters. Watering that results in flooding or runoff in gutters, sidewalks, driveways, or streets is prohibited.
  • Use a broom instead of a hose to clean. This includes hard surfaces such as sidewalks and driveways.
  • Fix leaks as soon as possible. Do not use broken or defective plumbing, sprinkler, watering, or irrigation systems.
  • Turn off irrigation systems when it is going to rain. Watering outdoor plants, lawn, grass, landscaping, or turf areas during and within 48 hours after measurable rainfall or at least one fourth of one inch of rain is prohibited. Palo Alto’s rainfall measurement is available through Valley Water's Precipitation Gauge.
  • Decorative fountains must have a recirculating system.

Water Use Rules for Businesses, Construction, and Restaurants

There are different water use rules for businesses. Unless otherwise stated, the restrictions above still apply.

  1.  No watering of ornamental lawns or turf. The State of California has banned the use of potable water (drinking water) to irrigate non-functional, ornamental lawns or turf(PDF, 1MB) at commercial, industrial, and institutional sites. Watering exceptions apply for functional turf (e.g. playing fields and golf courses), in which there is no limit on irrigation days; those sites can be irrigated as necessary for health and safety. Irrigation is prohibited entirely for non-functional turf unless to protect the health of trees or perennial plants (non-turf), or to address an immediate heath and safety need.
  2. Watering days apply to ornamental landscapes. The two days per week rule applies to ornamental landscapes, which includes landscaping for purely decorative purposes, distinguished from trees, edible gardens or landscapes that are functional as well as aesthetic. For non-residential customers who irrigate by zone, irrigation of ornamental landscapes with potable water is permitted more than two days per week, as long as each irrigation zone within an individual property is irrigated no more than two days per week.
  3. Restaurants must provide customers with water only upon request.
  4. Hotels and motels must provide guests with the option of choosing not to have towels and linens laundered daily. The hotel or motel shall prominently display notice of this option in each guestroom using clear and easily understood language.
  5. Do not use water for construction purposes when non-potable sources are available.

One Water Plan

The One Water Plan is an evaluation of alternative water supplies to make the City’s water supply more resilient. Palo Alto is assessing key regional uncertainties and water supply risks such as projected shortages under multi-year droughts. 

Learn More

Council Actions

The City's Water Shortage Contingency Plan(PDF, 125KB) outlines water use restrictions depending on the severity of the water shortage. The City Council implemented the water use restrictions in Stage II of the Water Shortage Contingency Plan. Learn more about the City's water supply by visiting our Water Resources page.

Report Water Waste

Water FAQs

What are the mandatory statewide and regional water use restrictions?

April 11, 2023: The City's water supplier, the SFPUC, formally rescinded the water shortage emergency declaration but kept the systemwide voluntary water use reduction target of 11%.

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. 

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 SFPUC declared a water shortage emergency for the Regional Water System.

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

The Palo Alto community reduced water usage by 13.4% for the months of July 2022 through March 2023 compared to July 2019 through March 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.

Learn more at cityofpaloalto.org/onewater.

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. 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

Reporting water waste through PaloAlto311

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!