With the statewide drought lingering for the fourth straight year, Palo Alto this week adopted a new rule barring residents and businesses from irrigating their landscapes more than twice a week.
The goal of the new water restrictions is to help the city meet a state-mandated goal of reducing its water use by 24 percent, compared to 2013. Last August, in response to a statewide call for voluntary conservation, the council approved new water regulations that included restrictions on the use of potable water in fountains and on driveways and sidewalks.
Now, with the water situation getting increasingly dire, the city is preparing for the next round of restrictions, which focus mostly on landscaping. The new rules are a response to Gov. Jerry Brown's April 25, 2014 executive order directing the State Water Resources Control Board to adopt emergency drought regulations. The city is required to demonstrate to the state board that is has achieved a 24 percent drop in water usage in the period between June 1, 2015 and Feb. 28, 2016.
The new rules include an irrigation schedule for the city's water customers. Those with odd-numbered addresses are now only allowed to irrigate on Mondays and Thursdays. Those with even-numbered addresses can only irrigate on Tuesdays and Fridays.
The city will give limited exceptions to grassy areas seen as providing "public benefit," including parks, schools and recreational playing fields. Customers with these sites would need to apply for Alternative Irrigation Plan with the city.
"The reasoning for this is that these spaces provide highly valued community or economic benefits and should be maintained to ensure safe recreation for users," an announcement from the Utilities Department reads. "The City will work to preserve high value playing fields, but will reduce irrigation or cease irrigating in certain areas of City Parks. Some irrigation may be supplemented with increased use of non-potable water."
The city also prohibits irrigation between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. to reduce water losses through evaporation and bars the use of potable water for construction projects when non-potable water is available. State and local regulations also require water customers to fix leaks in defective plumbing and irrigation systems as soon as possible.
To deal with violators, the city is relying on an enforcement process that overwhelmingly favors education over enforcement. The first violation will result in a informational doorhanger, an email or a phone call notifying the customer of the violation. So will the second violation. Only after a third violation will the customer receive a letter from the Utilities Department notifying them of the violation and the potential future fine. After someone gets caught violating the rules four times will he or she get hit with a fine of up to $100 per day per violation. After the fifth violation, flow restrictions may be installed, according to a summary from the Utilities Department.
The city has plenty of incentives to meet the state-mandated target. Cities must issue monthly reports about their water usage to the state water board. Those that fail to meet their targets could face fines of up to $10,000 per day.
City Manager James Keene said he and Utilities Department officials are "sensitive to the reality that the city could potentially face monetary penalties if we don't meet our water-reduction targets."
Landscaping restrictions, he told the council Monday, offer the surest path to meeting these targets.
"We know the largest potential water savings will come from outdoor use during the summer months and the reduction in that usage will be required if we are to meet our target," Keene said.
He noted that urban suppliers across the Bay Area are working to standardize as much as possible the days-per-week restrictions for irrigation.
Utilities Department officials emphasized that the regulations are geared toward saving potable water and thus exempt recycled water, including greywater, rainwater and water from the city's Regional Water Quality Treatment Plant.
More information about the city's water-conservation incentives and restrictions is available at cityofpaloalto.org/water.