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Water Use Restrictions Remain in Effect

As recovery from California’s drought continues, keep conserving and avoid wasteful water use practices.

Frequently Asked Questions about Water Use Restrictions

  1. Are we still in a drought?
  2. What water use restrictions are in effect now?
  3. How can I continue to conserve and meet the request to reduce water 10%?
  4. How can I check if my home or business is wasting water through leaks?
  5. What should I do if I see water waste occurring?
  6. What is the process for publicly reported water waste?
  7. Can businesses and apartment buildings still clean their sidewalks and plazas with water? 
  8. Can pressure washing still be performed in San Francisco?
  9. What are the best ways to clean sidewalks? 
  10. Are City trucks and workers still allowed to clean City streets and sidewalks? 
  11. Can lawns and gardens still be watered? 
  12. Can restaurants still serve water to customers? 
  13. What is the SFPUC doing about water waste at City parks and facilities? 
  14. Can I still wash my car at home? 
  15. What can I do now to save water and how can the SFPUC help? 

Yes. In response to improved water supply conditions in much of California, the State Water Board modified emergency drought regulations in May 2016. These latest adjustments changed the State-required reduction mandates and extended water waste restrictions through January 2017. Under the updated regulations, the State Water Board has adjusted water reduction targets to zero for agencies like the SFPUC that demonstrate sufficient water supplies to cover another three years of drought. The SFPUC conducted an analysis to confirm we have enough water to meet customer demand over this period and summarized the results in a memo. As such, we are continuing to call for a 10% voluntary system-wide reduction and adherence to all water waste restrictions.


2. What water use restrictions are in effect now?
Permanent prohibition of outdoor water use restrictions (adopted at the Commission meeting in June 2016):
  • 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 sidewalks, driveways, plazas, and other outdoor hardscapes for reasons other than health, safety, or to meet City of San Francisco standards for sidewalk cleanliness and in a manner that causes runoff to storm drains and sewer catch basins;
  • 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 remain in effect: 

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

3. How can I continue to conserve and meet the request to reduce water 10%?
Whether you rent or own, pay your own water bill, or use water in a home, apartment, business, or other type of facility, there are plenty of ways to lower your water use to meet our 10% reduction request. Learn how with Conservation Tips for Residents or Conservation Tips 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.

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

5. 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 www.sf311.org/ 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.

6. 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.  

7. Can businesses and apartment buildings still clean their sidewalks and plazas with water? 

Using water to wash sidewalks and hardscapes should be limited to address immediate health and safety needs and to meet City of San Francisco standards for sidewalk cleanliness. 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 to sewer and storm drains occurs. The SFPUC provides free automatic shut-off nozzles. 

8. Can pressure washing still be performed in San Francisco?
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. Mobile washers should obtain a permit from the SFPUC to ensure they are following best practices to avoid water waste and pollutant discharge.

9. 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.
  • Obtain a permit from the SFPUC if you are or use a mobile washer business.

10. 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. 

11. Can lawns and gardens still be watered? 

Yes, as long as 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 ensure efficient water use while keeping plants alive. For lawn and other plantings on steeply sloped areas, watering should be done in multiple start times to avoid runoff. 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. Consider long-term changes to your garden that will result in less water, such as replacing grass or high water use plants with drought-tolerant species or converting to drip irrigation.

12. Can restaurants still serve water to customers? 
Yes, but only upon customer request. All restaurant servers should continue 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 waterconservation@sfwater.org for copies.

13. What is the SFPUC doing about water waste at City parks and facilities? 
City departments, whose water use represents about 6 percent of total water use in San Francisco, continue to be under directive to reduce water use and maintain efficient practices. If you notice a leak, a broken or misaligned sprinkler head, or other water-related issue at a City park or facility, please report it by calling 311 or visiting www.sf311.org/.

14. 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.

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


Last updated: 10/18/2016 11:14:36 AM