Drought Q&A with the City of Palo Alto Utilities

Department spokeswoman Catherine Elvert provides some answers regarding the drought

Q: Are there any new conservation or incentive programs the city is putting into place to encourage residents to conserve water?

A: The City began delivering Home Water Reports to Palo Alto residents in November 2013. These reports compare household water consumption with homes of similar characteristics, including size, age, landscape type, area and number of occupants. Tailored water efficiency recommendations are integrated with our water utility's incentive and rebate programs to allow easy engagement in water conservation actions. Customers can log in to their online household account profile to update information, view analytics and trends in water use, pledge to take actions and find information on available water efficiency programs.

We are also engaged in a pilot program evaluation of advanced water metering infrastructure to provide customers with real-time water (and energy) consumption data. The Customer Connect program is in place for a test group of residents and we are working with another company to offer a related technology for our non-residential water meter customers.

Our implementation of drought regulations will have an additional effect on conservation activities. See below for current water use regulations in place for the entire State and Palo Alto.


Due to continued drought conditions throughout California, Governor Brown issued a new executive order on April 1, 2015, requiring a 25 percent statewide water-use reduction. The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) is tasked with developing regulations for compliance with this new mandate. Additionally, SWRCB adopted emergency drought regulations on March 17. These new regulations add to the emergency drought response action the board took in July 2014, which set restrictions on outdoor use of potable water. The new regulations place further restrictions on outdoor and indoor water use:

• Limit to the number of days per week potable water irrigation is allowed for turf grass and ornamental landscapes.

• Irrigation is prohibited within 48 hours of measurable rainfall.

• Restaurants and other food-service establishments must only serve drinking water upon request.

• Hotels and motels must offer guests the option to forgo daily laundering of sheets and towels.


The City of Palo Alto maintains permanent water-use regulations in the Municipal Code, which prohibit water waste. The following water uses are prohibited in Palo Alto:

• Landscape irrigation between 10 a.m.-6 p.m., unless irrigation is applied by drip irrigation, soaker hoses, or hand watering.

• Application of potable water to outdoor landscapes in a manner that causes runoff such that water flows onto adjacent property, non-irrigated areas, private and public walkways, roadways, parking lots, or structures.

• Use of a hose that dispenses potable water to wash autos or other vehicles, except where the hose is fitted with a shut-off nozzle or device attached to it that causes it to cease dispensing water immediately when not in use.

• Application of potable water to driveways and/or sidewalks, with exemptions for health, safety or state/federal permitting requirements.

• Use of potable water in a fountain or other decorative water feature, unless the fountain uses a recirculating system.

• Use of potable water for consolidation of backfill and other nondomestic uses in construction if other water sources such as reclaimed water are available.

• Any broken or defective plumbing, sprinklers, watering or irrigation systems which permit the escape or leakage of water. These shall be repaired or replaced as soon as possible.


The City of Palo Alto is currently determining how the state regulations adopted on March 17 will be implemented and enforced. The SWRCB is also expected to announce how cities and water agencies must comply with the governor's executive order declaring mandatory water-use reductions in May. Please visit for updates. We will continue to update this webpage as new information becomes available.

On Jan. 31, 2014, Palo Alto's water supplier, SFPUC, asked all agencies that it serves to voluntarily reduce water use by 10 percent. From February through December 2014, Palo Alto used 16 percent less water than in 2013 and achieved the highest water savings of all retail water agencies in Santa Clara County. We thank community members for successfully responding to this call for conservation and remind everyone that water use efficiency is important every day, regardless of drought conditions. The City of Palo Alto offers many resources to help you residents use water wisely, including free water surveys, conservation devices, educational programs and rebates for appliance or landscape upgrades. More information regarding the water situation and water efficiency rebates is available at the links below:

Residential Water Conservation Rebates

Water & Drought Update

Drought FAQs

Q: How is the city monitoring residential and business water usage?

A: We track weekly water use for the entire city and post it at Since we are actually billed by our water supplier only once per month, we don't get weekly metered billing data. We do, however, track daily water use with our own meters and then track monthly metered billing data. On a monthly basis, we capture sales data by customer class so we can track residential and business water use, but do not report that separately since the water savings goal is for the entire city's water usage. We also track monthly water usage by city accounts (municipal buildings, parks, etc.) so that the city as a water customer is aware of how it is responding to the drought conditions and requests for water use reductions.

Q: Has the city seen a reduction in residential and business water usage?

A: The Hetch Hetchy system's water supply outlook has been better than that for the state as a whole, and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) determined that only 10 percent voluntary water use reductions were needed in 2014. Palo Altans exceeded that 10 percent reduction request, reducing consumption by 14 percent for 2014 as a whole. Entire citywide savings were 16 percent for February-December 2014 (the SFPUC's call for voluntary reductions did not begin until Jan. 31). Both residents and businesses contributed.

Residents saved nearly 18 percent while businesses saved 8 percent, though it's worth noting that residents had a much higher 2013 baseline for comparing water use. During 2013, a very dry year with no drought restrictions, residents increased their consumption much more than businesses did, and so had more room to reduce consumption.

Water use for the year 2013 is being used as the baseline for comparing consumption and evaluate progress toward meeting state or local percent-reduction targets. I think it is important to remind people about this, as some think that if they use more water now, it will help them achieve an individual percent reduction goal later on when/if drought conditions continue. Palo Alto and other water agencies saw an increase in water use the first part of 2015. We need everyone to pitch in and help us meet our goals for conservation. If the SFPUC system-wide customers don't meet the 10 percent reduction target, SFPUC may be forced to raise the target or make the reductions mandatory.

You can view a graph of our water savings at Our drought FAQs on this page also provides links to graphs from SFPUC on the system water storage and usage.

Q: What are the city's goals to get customers to reduce their water use?

A: Our goals include meeting the SFPUC's request for water use reductions and compliance with state drought regulations. Additionally, the Water Conservation Act of 2009 established requirements for water agencies to set a 20 percent per capita water-use-reduction target for the year 2020. We are required to report on this target and our progress toward meeting that goal in our Urban Water Management Plan (UWMP). This plan is updated every five years. We are in the process of updating the 2015 UWMP, which is due to the state by the end of June 2016.

Q: Are there penalties, or will there be any in the face of the state's mandatory cuts? How will enforcement take place?

A: The city has the ability to fine customers for repeatedly violating water use restrictions, but we are more focused on education and helping customers conserve. There are currently no penalties in place for water use alone, although the state can fine water agencies and cities for not enforcing the drought regulations.

On Sept. 15, 2014, Palo Alto City Council adopted a plan for responding to violations of the water-use restrictions set by the state emergency drought regulations:

• First violation: Doorhanger/email/phone call to customer

• Second violation: Doorhanger/email/phone call to customer

• Third violation: Certified letter from the Utility director notifying customer of violation and potential future fines

• Fourth violation or more: Fines ($100 per infraction, per day) (PAMC 12.20.010)

Additional actions include:

• The city hired a water waste coordinator who is specifically dedicated to drought response actions.

• A new free Palo Alto 311 App now allows water-waste reporting.

Penalties through our current water-use restrictions (permanent and additional regulations adopted last year) will likely continue in the same way with new March 17 state regulations, and ultimately, for what we know our compliance obligations will be with the governor's April 1 executive order for water-use reductions. We don't yet know how the 25 percent water-use-reduction regulations will impact Palo Alto. The state is expected to announce details in May.

The city is diligently working to ensure that all city facilities, parks and public areas are using water as efficiently as possible. Our water waste coordinator is helping with citywide water-waste enforcement, and city staff are being eyes and ears on the streets. We ask customers to help us identify and fix leaks and other water waste by reporting issues to us via the Palo Alto 311 App. The city is required to report enforcement activities and penalties to the state.

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7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2015 at 10:50 am

What is the status of the water in the lake at Foothill Park? Is this a reservoir? Is this a storage facility for grey water or potable water? Why is there no evidence of a lower water level due to the drought? Why do they ask for donations to keep this lake full?

7 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 18, 2015 at 11:39 am

What is PA Utilities doing to take the lead in convincing the state to stop the sale of state water by Nestle and other commercial water companies?

Compared to their sales and agricultural usage, residential use is a mere drop in the bucket.

9 people like this
Posted by Really?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 18, 2015 at 12:09 pm

Why does the utility dept always get our vital statistics (size of family, size of lot, etc) wrong and then tell us we are overusing water? We are actually using water only for drinking, washing dishes, and laundry( and we have eliminated half of the rinse cycles). We no longer water our yard, the children bathe twice a week , together. The adults shower at the gym. No way do we use all the water and power CPAUD says we do!

BTW, we have corrected the facts many, many times.

14 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 18, 2015 at 12:19 pm

Can we help Palo Alto by changing our restaurant patronage to Menlo Park and Mountain View?

7 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 18, 2015 at 12:49 pm

Water waste reporting: I would like to clarify to the public to realize that those of us homeowners who have been given new city street trees are instructed IN WRITING by the city that we are required to water these trees to the tune of GALLONS of water per week (excluding when sufficient rainfall occurs) for the first several years of the trees being installed on our property. So before you report me to the city, as I carefully hand water our street tree, and comply with these city instructions, be advised that street trees are CITY PROPERTY. The water usage and cost are on OUR BILL as homeowners here, though.

2 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 19, 2015 at 12:29 am

I dine out quite a bit, and I have yet to see any restaurant that does
not automatically bring water, with ice, to the table. This includes
Chinese restaurants that bring ice water and hot tea most of the

Over a day this might work out into quite a lot of water ... is
there any plan to try to get restaurants to cooperate in this
effort, and have the City or County monitor them?

6 people like this
Posted by Gulf War Vet
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 19, 2015 at 2:43 pm

Someone should do something about the landscaping and lawn planting going on at the Me lo Park and Palo Alto VA's. There should be a moratorium on ALL landscaping anywhere until the drought is over.

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

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