Utilities News

City Responds to Drought Stressed Trees in Palo Alto

Trees are stressed by drought throughout Palo Alto, and the City is taking action to prevent a catastrophic loss of our urban canopy. Residents and businesses are being asked to cut back on water use and told that outdoor irrigation is a good place to start. However, reducing or completely eliminating landscape water use is depriving trees of the much-needed water they normally receive. 

Many property owners have let their lawns go dry in an effort to conserve water. Nearby street trees located in the public right of way or planter strip are suffering as a result. The City is asking residents and businesses to help save the urban canopy by continuing to water trees on private property, and if possible, extend a little water towards the street trees, too. Palo Alto must meet a State-mandated water use reduction target of 24% by the end of February. But the City also needs to protect its investment in one of the most important elements of our green infrastructure – the urban forest. 

To address this challenge, the City is going to use non-potable water to irrigate trees. This will supplement the water they would normally receive from rainfall or nearby irrigation systems, but are being deprived of during drought conditions. Use of non-potable water will help alleviate demands on potable water supplies, better enabling the City to meet its water conservation target. 

Palo Alto has more than 35,000 street trees within the City’s boundaries. The City estimates that it will be able to extend its watering operations to about 7,000 of those trees. Residents and businesses are an important partner in this drought response effort, and can help the City by irrigating private and public trees on their properties. 

The City has teamed up with local non-profit, Canopy, on an outreach campaign to educate the community about proper tree care and irrigation and motivate action to save trees during the drought. The Save Our Water AND Our Trees campaign reminds people about the importance of our urban canopy and how trees offer many benefits for the health of our watershed, air quality, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and even social and economic well-being! Working with Canopy, the City is providing tips for watering, planting and selecting trees that are suited for our climate. 

Proposed Actions: City trees along streets and in developed parks were rapidly assessed to determine which would likely respond to supplemental application(s) of non-potable water. Those trees showing symptoms of minor to moderate drought stress have been organized into six area routes for water application. Maps highlighting the streets where supplemental watering will occur can be found on the City’s Urban Forestry webpage at cityofpaloalto.org/trees 

The City will deliver non-potable water by truck. Supplemental watering for selected mature trees began on October 2. The City expanded its watering truck hours and added another City staff-operated rental truck. Staff is actively seeking a second rental watering truck, however, it is difficult to acquire additional trucks due to competition from private companies offering watering services. 

Operation hours were extended for the one City-owned water truck to continue watering newly planted trees (up to 3 years old) from midnight to 10 am and then water established trees from 10 am to 4 pm. In addition, the City will contract services to water selected medians and park areas. The City will further expand operations once equipment and purchase agreements are obtained, which is anticipated in the month of October. 

Outreach, information, and partnerships have been expanded. The City has increased its messaging presence with social media, utility bill inserts, ads in the local papers, email newsletters, news releases, presentations to residential, business, school and community groups, and news interviews. More information is now available on the City of Palo Alto’s website as well as partner sites. Canopy has also stepped up its outreach, with emails to subscribers enlisting residents’ help in caring for street trees (Adopt a Street Tree program). Canopy is planning another round of printed and digital ads in the Palo Alto Weekly and Palo Alto Online, as well as website updates about the new program. 

Canopy and the City continue to widely distribute the Save Our Water AND Our Trees brochure, which can be found at cityofpaloalto.org/water or on Canopy’s website. This is being done in conjunction with tree care and smart watering demonstrations. The City’s November utility insert is devoted to tree care during drought. 

Last Updated: October 26, 2015