Palo Alto


Located in the northwestern part of Santa Clara County, the City of Palo Alto is home to 58,598 residents. Palo Alto has a number of significant natural habitats, including estuarine, riparian and oak forest. Many of these habitats are visible in Foothill Park, which is owned by the city. The Charleston Slough contains a rich marsh and littoral zone, providing feeding areas for a variety of shorebirds and other estuarine wildlife.

Shared Responsibilities

Most policies guiding development and use of resources in Los Altos are contained in the City's Comprehensive Plan. With the understanding that their roles and responsibilities often intersect, the District and the City work together on many key community interests. Major efforts have included:

  • Identifying and mapping key groundwater recharge areas
  • Reviewing the water rate structure
  • Implementing incentives for the use of drought tolerant landscaping
  • Reducing non-point source pollution in urban runoff
  • Establishing guidelines for creek channel maintenance

Looking forward, further collaboration or partnership will facilitate sustainable development in the region, particularly in the following areas:

When evaluating land use decisions:

  • Assess and plan for changes in water demand and storm water management, especially taking into account how urbanization affects the water cycle.
  • Decrease the demand for water.
  • Expand water use efficiency in existing and new development.
  • Actively pursue and facilitate the use of recycled water.
  • Protect and expand local water supplies.
  • Protect groundwater basins and source water protection zones.
  • Reduce flood risk.
    • Site new construction to assure stable stream channels and minimize flood risk.
    • Require that new construction in flood prone areas be built to flood safe standards.
  • Protect natural stream functions.
    • Restore fisheries, riparian habitat, and wetland areas.
    • Explore opportunities for increased creek-side trails and open space.

During operations of existing facilities or services:

  • Manage local storm drainage systems with stream capacity to contain floodwaters.
  • Support measures to reduce the exposure to flood risk.
  • Support measures to enhance flood preparedness and knowledge of risk exposure.
  • Prepare critical facilities for operations during flood events or prolonged draught.
  • Reduce pollutants entering streams.


The interactive map below shows the location of Palo Alto and illustrates some of the city's key features, such as major creeks, flood zones and groundwater subbasins.

To view key features, choose a layer from the "Select a layer to display" menu on the map below. You can select multiple layers to view at one time; if you wish to turn off a layer, select it again from the menu. Individual layers contain specific data that you can access by clicking on the layer itself.



Key Water Resources Features

Palo Alto lies within the San Francisquito Creek watershed.

Water Supply

Palo Alto's Comprehensive Plan provides an extensive set of policies geared toward the prudent management of water resources. The City strives to protect groundwater from adverse impacts and secure a reliable supply of water. The Plan also sets forth policies and programs to maximize conservation and efficient use of water. In addition, the City outlines policies to preserve the quality of water and encourage Best Management Practices for reducing pollution.

Flood Protection

According to the City's Comprehensive Plan:

Limited areas of Palo Alto are subject to flooding following unusually heavy rainfall. Flooding is typically associated with overtopping creek banks, inadequately sized bridges and culverts, and blocked storm drains. Most of the City is outside the 100-year [1%] flood plain boundary as defined by FEMA. However, a substantial area is subject to flooding in a 100-year storm and is designated as a Special FLood Hazard Area on FEMA's FLood Insurance Rate Map.

The City seeks to minimize exposure to flood hazards by reviewing proposed development in flood prone areas. Specifically, the City proposes a standardized process for evaluating impacts of development on the storm drainage system and implementing FEMA requirements relating to construction in flood hazard areas.


Watershed Health

The Comprehensive Plan outlines an extensive set of criteria guiding open space development; in addition, the Plan sets forth numerous and rigorous policies for preserving creeks and riparian areas in particular. The City acknowledges that "creeks are among Palo Alto's most important natural resources," and the City's goals, policies and actions reinforce that philosophy.

Palo Alto participates in the Coordinated Resource Management and Planning program with othe rlocal governments, resource agency staff and representatives from other groups to address the onging health of the watershed.

Citywide Programs and Projects

The City and the District often collaborate on projects to maintain the health of the watershed and water quality, establish natural flood protection and provide access to open space and trails. Recent projects include:


Related Plan Elements

The Related Plan Elements listed below identify some of the District strategies  applicable to the city. They provide the basis for cities to provide better management of key water resources features within their jurisdictions and to work more effectively with the District to address water resources managemenet issues.

Related Plan Elements

District Has Primary Jurisdiction
E- Identify existing stream conditions and stream characteristics and implement practical solutions where appropriate, to improve stream stability and its dynamic equilibrium. (P)
District Advocates
E- Provide technical advice and, if appropriate, work with municipalities to manage stormwater to address stream flooding and environmental benefits. (T)
District Advocates
E- Develop and provide technical advice on the design of floodplains and channels that incorporates the physical and dynamic equilibrium of streams. (P and T)
District Collaborates
E- Assist municipalities and citizens when needed to lessen potential flood impacts. (C)
District Advocates
E- Promote community awareness about best practices to avoid or minimize exposure to flooding potential. (T)
District Advocates
E- Assist in the incorporation of flood-wise design features (e.g., minimize imperviousness, preserve natural drainage, rain harvesting and provide flood water detention) within the watershed. (T)
District Advocates
E- Encourage and provide technical assistance in mitigating erosion, sedimentation and high flows from new development or redevelopments. (T)
District Advocates
E- Promote awareness of risks for developing in flood hazard areas. (T)
District Advocates
E- Provide information on stormwater management and design of floodplains and channels. (T)
District Advocates
E- Promote protection, preservation and enhancement of creek and bay ecosystems functions. (T)
District Advocates
E- Promote the preservation of ecological buffers. (T)
District Collaborates
E- Provide hazardous materials management and incident response. (P and C)
District Collaborates
E- Promote the protection and preservation of water quality and providing stream stewardship. (C)
District Advocates
E- Promote the preservation of riparian corridors and provide guidance supporting watershed health to the entire community. (T)
District Collaborates
E- Reduce pollutants in streams from urban runoff and minimize the effects on surface and ground water.
District Collaborates
E- Work with other entities for planning, design, construction, maintenance, and operation of trails/open space amenities.