News Release News Release The City of Palo Alto
Communications Department
250 Hamilton Ave
Palo Alto, CA 94301


Subject :

New Landscape Standards Proposed for Palo Alto
A Result of New State Water Efficiency Requirements
Contact : Catherine Cox, Utilities Account Representative, City of Palo Alto Utilities    (650) 329-2417
Joyce Kinnear, Manager, Utility Marketing Services, City of Palo Alto Utilities    (650) 329-2652

In California, half of all urban water use is used for landscaping, and state law now requires all cities to adopt more stringent requirements for landscape water use. The State of California has developed a Model Ordinance with new requirements for new and rehabilitated residential and commercial landscapes. All California cities must either adopt the Model Ordinance by January 1, 2010, or develop an equivalent local ordinance to reduce landscape water usage. The City of Palo Alto’s Utilities Advisory Commission (UAC) will review a draft update to the City of Palo Alto’s landscape-related ordinances and standards at its January 6, 2010 meeting. Without adoption of a local equivalent, the State's Model Ordinance is automatically effective.  The City has informed the State that it is in the process of adopting its own equally effective local ordinance.

City staff has been working with the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA) to develop a regional template Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance (Ordinance) for adoption by member agencies in the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission service area.  By working with other water utilities in the region, the City has an opportunity to more specifically address the needs of the local community, while being at least as effective as the DWR Model Ordinance in conserving water.

“We are pleased to collaborate with our regional water utilities and with DWR to support the efficient use of the available water supply. The City of Palo Alto strives to implement sustainable environmental policies, while preserving the quality of life for our community,” stated Debra van Duynhoven, Assistant to the City Manager for Sustainability.

Palo Alto’s water efficiency requirements for commercial landscapes have been in effect since 1992 and the draft update would establish design requirements and water budgets on specific new or renovated residential landscapes. Staff is working to ensure that the landscape efficiency standards will be compatible with the City’s Green Building Program. Applicants will be required to complete a water efficiency checklist, which includes a landscape and irrigation plan. The new standards will allow applicants an option of either planting turf grass (up to a specific percentage of their landscaped area) or developing a water budget for the site. Larger projects will require certification by a professional; however, smaller projects will require a simple self-certification of compliance with the landscape standards. Other proposed changes may include restrictions on outdoor watering times for all customers, dedicated irrigation meters for certain projects, and stronger water waste prohibitions. Recreational sports playing fields and parks may also have to adhere to a water budget.

After review by the UAC, the City Council will consider the draft, which allows Palo Alto to meet State requirements by adopting a local program rather than the State's Model Ordinance, for eventual adoption into the Municipal Code.

In 2006, the State of California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 1881 (AB1881), which directed the Department of Water Resources (DWR) to update the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance. DWR published the final text of the Model Ordinance in September 2009. AB 1881 requires cities and counties  to adopt the updated Model Ordinance developed by DWR or an equivalent ordinance which is “at least as effective as” the DWR Model Ordinance in reducing landscape water usage. Water agencies must report on their progress to the DWR by January 31, 2010. 

For further questions regarding the Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance, contact the City’s Water Conservation Specialist at (650) 329-2417 or read



1.       Memorandum to the Palo Alto Utilities Advisory Commission for January 6, 2010: “Discussion of an updated water efficient landscape ordinance for recommendation of Council Approval” at

2.       AB 1881 (California law requiring the Ordinance):

3.       Department of Water Resources (DWR) Model Ordinance: