Palo Alto adopts water-use restrictions

City Council unanimously approves ban on using potable water for fountains, driveways

With drought conditions continuing to plague the state, Palo Alto officials swiftly passed a resolution Monday restricting the use of potable water in fountains and on driveways and sidewalks.

The resolution, which the City Council passed unanimously after scarcely any discussion, is the city's response to a July 15 decision by the State Water Resources Control Board to approve emergency regulations to deal with the statewide drought. These include directing urban water suppliers like Palo Alto to impose restrictions on outdoor irrigation or ornamental landscapes.

The ban comes at a time when Palo Alto has already curtailed its water use through aggressive outreach and incentive programs. These include the recent doubling of rebates for actions that encourage efficient outdoor irrigation, including replacing turf grass with native vegetation; delivering home-water reports that compare a customer's usage with that of comparable households; and providing water budgets to large landscape customers. Staff estimates that the city's water consumption was 17 percent lower this year between February and June than during a comparable period last year.

The council's Monday vote aims to achieve even more savings and help the city meet the 20 percent reduction that Gov. Jerry Brown called for in January, when he proclaimed a drought state of emergency. The council quickly adopted the resolution, with Councilwoman Karen Holman calling the new restrictions "pretty straightforward."

"Palo Alto is doing well. We can do better," Holman said. "I think these are reasonable and rational approaches to adopt."

The state water board's resolution already prohibits all Californians from using potable water to wash driveways, operate decorative fountains or irrigate in a way that results in runoff, restrictions that took effect Aug. 1. By adopting the new restrictions into its own water-use regulations, Palo Alto is seeking to remain consistent with state law.

Currently, the city's plan for dealing with water shortages falls into four stages, based on the severity of the shortage. The new regulations trigger the second stage, which calls for a water-supply reduction of 10 to 20 percent through increased outreach and some water-use restrictions.

Debra Lloyd, a senior resource planner at the Utilities Department, said utilities officials have already started cataloging reports of water waste. She said the city is appointing an inter-departmental team to coordinate the city's communication about and response to the drought. One of the team's first tasks will be to coordinate and come up with an enforcement plan for existing restrictions, she said.

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Posted by Geoff Ball
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 5, 2014 at 9:59 pm

I'd like to see Palo Alto explain or limit it use of irrigation water on city parks. Is it reclaimed water or is it potable water. If Potable, I'd like to see it ended or dramatically reduced. Nothing conveys the criticality of the water drought quite so clearly as turning off the sprinklers in the parks.

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Posted by The Apartmentzilla ate my trees
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 6, 2014 at 12:00 am

I'd like to see a moratorium on new development until we can develop policies to take into account water and the fact that we live in an arid region with period drought.

If this really is an emergency, the governor should do it. It's been done in other states for the same reason.

Like this comment
Posted by Rational
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 6, 2014 at 5:59 am

And the restrictions specifically are ... ?

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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 6, 2014 at 7:17 am

And the restrictions specifically are ... stated in the first paragraph of this article?

Actually yes, there was more, which I can't recall exactly, but regarded hose use without a shut-off valve at the handle, and also hours (10-6?) when landscape watering would be banned unless drip irrigation, and probably other things in the fine print. More importantly, I think there was something about hiring several enforcers, but that may have been county rather than city. Hope someone knowledgeable chimes in.

3 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 6, 2014 at 9:42 am

Does that mean it will still be legal to pump 8 million gallons of good water down the drain to build a house basement? I bet all these restrictions do not add up to one basement in water use.

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Posted by Old Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 6, 2014 at 10:28 am

Somebody should tell this to Survey Monkey. Last night at 7:30 somebody was on the Alma side of their building power-washing the sidewalk.

1 person likes this
Posted by Midtowner
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Aug 6, 2014 at 10:45 am

Yes, I would like to chime in with the person asking about all the water wasted when millions of gallons of water are pumped out while basements are being built. I was also told by a ranger at Foothills park that the lake there is full because of city water being pumped in, when I wondered out loud why Boronda lake was full while the pond at Arastradero was dry.

Like this comment
Posted by JOSmith
a resident of Monroe Park
on Aug 6, 2014 at 10:58 am

JOSmith is a registered user.

Water supplies should be expanded to meet the demand. We are close to the Bay, so desalinated water is cheap for us. Instead of making it illegal to use extra water, why not simply charge extra for it?

2 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Aug 6, 2014 at 11:27 am

JOSmith, you have the right idea, to use the price system to balance supply and demand for water, raising prices when needed in a drought, and letting each person decide for themselves how best to use water given the price demanded.

However, this idea is far too simple for California and especially the Bay Area, so expect to see an army of busybodies and ninnies dictating how people should use water, as though there was an efficient and universal way to decide what constitutes "waste".

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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 6, 2014 at 11:30 am

The power washers I've seen downtown are associated with a vehicle or trailer that has its own water reservoir, which may be filled with recycled or non-potable water.

I'd like to hear more about the effluent of our waste water treatment plant and its suitability for irrigation or other uses. How much is currently being recycled? How far has the purple-pipe network progressed?

Like this comment
Posted by Waterless
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 6, 2014 at 11:31 am

Leave your house for a year or two and go to a state where there is lots of water...maybe West Virginia.

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Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 6, 2014 at 1:23 pm

Gethin is a registered user.

The comment on water usage at parks is well taken. As an example at Seale park there is water running down the street gutters while the park spray systems are on.

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Posted by Broken Water Line
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 6, 2014 at 1:24 pm

There was a broken water line along Greer Park yesterday, running off of Bayshore. It was flooding Colorado before someone from the city got there to turn it off- at least 20 minutes from the time I called. So sad and such a waste.

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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 6, 2014 at 1:26 pm

From city of Palo Alto, Foothills Park webpage --

"Help Keep Boronda Lake Full and Healthy!
It costs $50,000 a year to keep Boronda Lake full in the Summer.
You can help!"

Then there's a "Donate" button. Visa, Mastercard, Discover, or PayPal.

10 people like this
Posted by LaNell Mimmack
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 6, 2014 at 1:39 pm

I walk past Johnson Park every morning. It is being watered along with the sidewalk. Please set an example by having the city conserve water.

1 person likes this
Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 6, 2014 at 2:22 pm

ChrisC is a registered user.

Can we report people who are wasting water? On my morning walk I see one house where the water runoff from watering on the sidewalks and gutter. Of course it could be an accident, but if it's every day, then it's not good.

Like this comment
Posted by Joe Giraffe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 6, 2014 at 2:39 pm

Regarding ground water pumped out when a basement is being constructed, the city is testing a way to reuse that water:
Web Link

2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 6, 2014 at 5:17 pm

@ Joe Giraffe. Thanks for the info. Finally, some reuse of a fraction of the average 6-8 million gallons of water pumped out for a residential basement. Doesn't address the impact on surrounding vegetation, etc.

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Posted by Water saver
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 8, 2014 at 7:09 am

Our parks are watered with recycled water not Hetch Hetchy!!!!

1 person likes this
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 1, 2015 at 4:24 pm

Stop all development of hotels, businesses and apartments now until the drought is over. More people is more water usage. And from yesterday's Palo Alto news the City has millions extra to waste on more new employees and unnecessary programs so we don't need the money. Stop it all for a year and see how much it rains in 2016.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob McGrew
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 1, 2015 at 9:14 pm

jerry99 - the drought is definitely a real concern, but stopping construction won't make a difference. (I just posted this on today's article, but I saw your post on TS and figured I'd chime in.)

New offices and housing use very little water. 80% of water in California is used for farming, and 70% of the remaining 20% that goes to metro areas is used for lawns and swimming pools. In other words, only 6% goes to human use rather than land irrigation!

If you look at per-person numbers, according to the city of Santa Monica, a person using water efficiently uses 68 gallons/day, or roughly 25,000 gallons per year.(Web Link) That sounds like a lot, but agriculture uses even more. It takes one gallon of water to produce one almond. (Web Link). So a year's worth of water for one person is 25,000 almonds... roughly 62 pounds or about $200 worth of almonds to a farmer.

Because so little water usage is by humans, it's very easy for cities to add population while reducing water use. In fact, Palo Alto did this between 2000 and 2010 - the city added 5% more households, but total water use decreased by 18%! See Web Link for the data.

As someone who came to Palo Alto last decade, I'm pretty happy that was allowed. :)

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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