skip navigation
Share this:

Water Shortage Use Restrictions

This page provides examples of water shortage plans, water use restrictions, and enforcement measures for public water utilities in Washington State, including sample documents from previous droughts.

Water Shortage Response Plans

WAC 246-290-100(4)(f)(iii) requires many public water systems to prepare water shortage response plans as part of their water system plans if the agency experiences a water shortage or anticipates one in the next six years.

Typically, these plans include criteria and procedures for different stages of water shortages, beginning with advisory measures and voluntary conservation, and escalating to mandatory restrictions and water emergencies. Smaller water providers may only have two or three stages, while larger providers may have four or five.

For guidance, see the Department of Health’s resources on Preparing Water Shortage Response Plans (2011) and Preparing Water Shortage Response Plans for Small Public Drinking Water Systems (2008).


Water Emergency Declarations

Before beginning conservation measures, the water provider should declare a water problem or emergency. In some jurisdictions, the declaration must be made by the mayor or council, while in others it may be made administratively by the city manager, utility director, or other designee. The responsible party, as well as the publication requirements, should be identified in the water shortage response plan.


Financial Impacts and Emergency Surcharges

Declarations of water emergencies and water shortages can have financial impacts that may not be addressed in the water shortage response plan.  While the objective is to reduce water consumption, reduced consumption means reduced revenue, and there should be a plan to mitigate the impacts on current and future budgets when such an emergency arises.

A water shortage response plan that anticipates these financial impacts by implementing temporary rate increases or by incorporating contingency funds and/or reserve funds for water emergencies into the budget process will minimize the loss of revenues and provide a source of income to help stabilize the water fund during such critical times.

Some municipalities have adopted provisions allowing them to increase water rates during a declared water emergency. Water surcharges encourage conservation and also mitigate some of the fiscal impacts associated with reduced water consumption. Sometimes these surcharges are uniform and established in the city code, and other times they may be variable and adopted at the time of the shortage.


Outdoor Water Use Restrictions

Municipalities may restrict or prohibit the use of water for gardening, watering lawns, washing cars, filling swimming pools, and other outdoor uses during water shortages. This may include address-based watering schedules, prohibitions on water use between certain hours, or complete bans on outdoor watering.


Water Restriction Exemptions

Water providers sometimes exempt certain users from mandatory water restrictions, such as businesses that depend on water for their income.


Enforcement and Penalties

To enforce water restrictions, many public water providers have adopted penalties for violators, including fines, installation of water flow restriction devices, and water shutoffs.

Water shutoff procedures should be carefully reviewed because of due process concerns. Notice to the customer is usually required prior to termination of a service. In emergency situations, prior warnings could constitute adequate notice.


Recommended Resources

Below are some helpful resources related to drought and water supply. During previous droughts, the state Department of Health and Department of Ecology have listed more detailed information online, and they may do so again during future droughts.

Last Modified: April 02, 2021