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Water Use Restrictions and Reductions Remain in Effect

California’s severe drought continues; take immediate action and keep saving. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Water Use Restrictions

What water use restrictions are in effect now?
Governor Jerry Brown has issued several Executive Orders to address California’s severe drought. To implement the Governor’s directives, the State Water Resources Control Board has extended statewide emergency water conservation regulations through October 2016. Urban water suppliers are responsible for local implementation of efforts to reduce water use and waste. For the SFPUC, the following are currently in effect:

Prohibition of wasteful outdoor water activities continue, including:

  • Watering outdoor landscapes in a manner that causes runoff to sidewalks, streets, and hardscapes;
  • Using a hose, without a shut-off nozzle, for any purpose;
  • Washing driveways and sidewalks for purposes other than an immediate health and safety need;
  • Using drinking water for soil compaction, dust control, or other non-essential construction purposes if non-potable water is available
  • Watering outdoor landscapes with potable water during and within forty-eight (48) hours after a rain event;
  • Watering with potable water of ornamental turf on public street medians; 
  • Irrigation of landscapes outside of new homes and buildings in a non-efficient manner; and 
  • Using drinking water in non-recirculating fountains or decorative water devices. 

Additionally, the following indoor water use restrictions are in effect: 

  • Serving water at restaurants without customer request; and 
  • Not providing hotel guests the option to reuse towels and linens.

How can I meet the request to reduce water 10%?
While currently only SFPUC irrigation accountholders have been issued individual water allocations and are subject to charges for exceeding these allocations, it is critical that all our retail water users ensure their water use is as efficient as possible and take immediate action to reduce discretionary and outdoor water use and waste. Collectively, across our system we must lower water use this year and next by 10% from what we used in 2013 to meet state requirements and avoid potential steep fines to our agency and mandatory rationing for all. Whether you rent or own, pay your own water bill, or use water in a home, apartment, commercial business or other type of facility, you can lower and maintain efficient water use and meet our 10% request. Learn How: Conservation Tips for Residents Conservation Tips Sheet for Businesses

If you have already done everything you can, then keep up the good work and maintain your water efficiency. We recognize that increases in occupancy in your home, business or facility since 2013 may affect your overall water use.

How can I check if my home or business is wasting water through leaks?
Visit our home leaks page for tips on how to identify and repair common leaks including toilets, faucets, showerheads, and irrigation systems. Select standard toilet repair parts are provided free from the SFPUC, and are available to pick up at our Customer Service counter (located at 525 Golden Gate Avenue) during business hours Monday – Friday. Performing a manual read on the water meter while all water fixtures and irrigation systems are turned off can also help identify silent leaks such as worn toilet flappers and breaks in the main water supply line leading into your home.

Register or log on to My Account to view your household’s daily water use reports. Sudden increases in water use could mean a plumbing or irrigation system leak has developed or some other unusual water use is occurring.

What should I do if I see water waste occurring?
We encourage you to talk with your neighbors and the establishments you frequent to let them know about the importance of conserving water and water-saving assistance available through the SFPUC. You may also report a potential violation of water waste restrictions by submitting an online complaint through or by calling 311. The SFPUC reviews these reports and, depending on the accuracy of information provided and the situation, may issue a notification and contact the site. It is important to note that not all visible water use is wasteful or means that a home or building’s overall water use is inefficient. Multiple complaints made by the same person for the same situation will not elevate its importance.

What is the process for publicly reported water waste?
The SFPUC reviews all reports of potential water waste submitted through 311. If the report contains sufficient information and reflects a restricted outdoor water use, the SFPUC will issue a courtesy letter or postcard to the water account holder, property owner and occupant. If reports of waste continue, the SFPUC will call or visit the site to try to verify waste. If water waste is verified and continues, the SFPUC will issue a warning letter to the account holder. After two written warnings and SFPUC field confirmation of reoccurring waste, the responsible account holder may be subject to further enforcement.  

Can businesses and apartment buildings still clean their sidewalks and plazas with water? Can pressure washing still be performed in San Francisco?
Using water to wash sidewalks and hardscapes is prohibited except to address immediate health and safety needs. Brooms and other non-water using equipment should be used for general maintenance purposes. If washing with water is necessary, spot wash only the areas of immediate need with a wet mop, a pressure washer, or a hose equipped with a water-efficient spray nozzle and stop before runoff occurs. The SFPUC provides free automatic shut-off nozzles. Pressure or power washing can still be done to address immediate health and safety needs or for cleaning the sides and windows of buildings, as long as it is done efficiently and without causing runoff. Any use of water that causes runoff into storm drains or catch basins is prohibited.

What are the best ways to clean sidewalks?
Brooms and non-water using methods should be used as much as possible, following the guidelines below. Violations may occur if water is used inefficiently. Per wastewater regulations, water runoff from hardscape washing, as well as disposal of trash, debris, hazardous and other materials into storm drains or catch basins is never allowed and could result in further penalties. Download Sidewalk Cleaning Tips Here

  • Pick up or sweep up waste materials, trash, food and debris and dispose of it in trash bins.
  • Use liners in compost and trash bins to avoid needing to rinse bins with water.
  • Use water sparingly to spot wash areas where substances have accumulated. The most efficient methods are a wet mop or a pressure washer with a maximum flow rate of 1.6 gallons per minute. If a hose is used, it must be equipped with an automatic shut-off nozzle.
  • Never use water to push debris into the street, gutter, storm drains or neighboring properties.
  • Never run water continuously.
  • Never wash restaurant floor mats and equipment on sidewalks or in alleys. All food establishment equipment must be washed in facilities with grease traps.

Are City trucks and workers still allowed to clean City streets and sidewalks?
Yes. The Department of Public Works (DPW) will continue to clean streets for public health and safety purposes and respond to 311 service requests for removal of human and animal waste on sidewalks and plazas. DPW employees, wearing yellow DPW vests and protective gear, use low-flow pressure washing equipment with disinfectant to spot clean public areas where health and safety situations have been identified.

A city worker removing waste for health and safety purposes.

DPW’s larger street cleaning vehicles, known as flusher trucks, use recycled water for a portion of their work. In addition, SFPUC wastewater maintenance trucks use recycled water for sewer flushing.

A city vehicle using reclaimed water to flush sewers. 

Can lawns and gardens still be watered during the drought?
Yes, as long as outdoor water use has been reduced by 25% and no runoff onto sidewalks, hardscapes, or storm drains occurs. For a typical San Francisco property, reducing watering to once or twice a week, and/or the amount time that watering occurs, will help meet reduction goals and keep plants alive. For lawn and other plantings on steeply sloped areas, watering should be stopped to avoid runoff or be adjusted for multiple start times. For example, if you normally water for 10 minutes, adjust the schedule to water for 5 minutes, turn off for an hour, and then water again for another 5 minutes. This allows the area to absorb water before running off. Download Efficient Watering Tips Here

Some residents, businesses, and City-maintained landscapes have chosen to stop watering and let landscapes turn brown. For those interested, the SFPUC provides "Brown is the new Green" signage. To pick up a free lawn sign, visit the SFPUC Customer Service Center located at 525 Golden Gate Avenue, 1st Floor.

Can restaurants still serve water to customers?
Yes, but only upon customer request. All restaurant servers should be instructed to serve water only when customers ask for it to avoid waste. The SFPUC provides “water upon request” signage free to restaurants. Contact (415) 551-4730 or for copies.

Is it okay to serve a pitcher of water for a table at a restaurant? What about having a self-serve water station?
A good guiding principle for deciding how and if you should serve water is to ask yourself: “Will I need to discard this water when this customer leaves the restaurant?” If the answer is yes, then only serve the water if the customer requests it. If the answer is no, it is probably not in violation of the intent of the restrictions to provide the water. The requirement to serve water only upon request is intended to prevent waste from people not drinking water that is brought to them. For example, if serving a pitcher of water at a table would likely require discarding any leftover water when that table’s party leaves, then a pitcher should only be brought if requested. A centrally located self-serve station would not require discarding water anytime a party leaves, so it would be okay to have this type of set up. Another consideration is whether water not consumed by customers can be beneficially and safely used to water plants, clean floors, or used for other non-drinking purposes.

What is the SFPUC doing about water waste at City parks and facilities?
City departments continue to be under directive to reduce water use 10% overall and 25% at landscape sites. Several departments, including the Department of Public Works and Recreation and Parks Department, issued their own additional conservation directives to stop or significantly reduce outdoor water use and waste. While City department water use makes up about 6 percent of total water use for San Francisco, it is the City’s goal to make our facilities and landscapes as efficient as possible. If you notice a leak, a broken or misaligned sprinkler head, or other water-related issue at a City park, please report it by calling 311 or visiting

Can I still wash my car at home?
We recommend washing cars at commercial carwashes, because many recycle their water and dispose of pollutants safely. Any washing at home should be done with a sponge and bucket, or a hose with an automatic shut-off nozzle and no water runoff to the sidewalk and street should occur. See our Guide to Car Washing in SF.

What can I do now to save water and how can the SFPUC help?
Visit, call (415) 551-4730 or email to find out more about assistance available to residents and businesses in San Francisco and SFPUC customers outside San Francisco. 


Last updated: 2/12/2016 1:03:45 PM