Water Demand Offet FAQs

Applicability and Compliance

Does the WDO Policy apply to my project?

  • The WDO Policy applies to any project that will (a) increase demand on the City of Santa Rosa’s water system and (b) be required to pay new or increased water service connection fees. 
  • Projects that are not required to pay new or increased water service connection fees are exempt. This includes small accessory dwelling units (ADUs) that are 750 square feet or smaller. 
  • The WDO Policy is effective as of May 30, 2022. Projects that applied for a building permit prior to that date are not subject to the policy. If a building permit is not required for a project, then projects that applied for an encroachment permit prior to that date are not subject to the policy. 
  • If you are unsure if the policy applies to your project, please reach out to WaterResources@srcity.org.

If the WDO Policy applies to my project, how do I comply?

  • First, applicants will need to complete and submit a WDO Application. Completed WDO Applications should be emailed to Water Resources at WaterResources@srcity.org and copied to Engineering Services at WaterEng@srcity.org.
  • Applicants can choose one of two methods for compliance: WDO Fees or an Applicant proposed (and City approved) alternative compliance method. The WDO Application provides instructions for both methods. Alternative compliance methods are subject to review and approval. 
  • After processing the WDO Application, staff will email a WDO Agreement that must be signed and notarized by the property owner (or agent of record). It also must be recorded against the property.
  • The WDO Fee (or completion of an approved alternative compliance method) will be due when the applicant is seeking final inspection or occupancy of any type – but only if the City of Santa Rosa is in a declared water shortage emergency that requires existing to customers to adhere to site-specific water allocations (water “rationing”) at that time
  • Under the 2020 Water Shortage Contingency Plan, water rationing and WDO requirements occur in shortage Stages 5-8. The 2020 Water Shortage Contingency Plan is available on the Water Supply Planning webpage here.
  • If Santa Rosa is NOT in a declared water shortage emergency that requires water allocations for existing customers at that time, then the water demand offsets will not be needed, and the applicant will not be required to pay the WDO Fee nor complete an approved alternative compliance method (whichever is applicable).


WDO Applications and Agreements

Where do I find the WDO Application?

  • The WDO Application packet is available on the WDO webpage here and includes instructions and contact information if you have additional questions. 

When and where do I submit my WDO Application?

  • The WDO Application must be submitted and processed, and WDO agreement must be fully executed before the City issuess a building permit. If a building permit is not required, the WDO Application must be submitted, and a WDO agreement must be fullly executed, before the City issues an encroachment permit. 
  • Completed WDO Applications should be emailed to Water Resources at WaterResources@srcity.org and copied to Engineering Services at WaterEng@srcity.org.

What if my project site has a  water service with water connection credits? Do the Water Demand Offset requirements still apply to my project? 

  • In some circumstances,  water service credits may reduce or even eliminate the water demand offset required for new development on the same parcel. 
  • Determining credits and their applicability can be complicated. WDO applicants who believe they may have credits should ask Development Services staff for assistance (WaterEng@srcity.org). They will consider any preexisting credits when calculating whether the site is required to pay new or increased connections fees. Staff can provide any applicable credit information to include with your WDO Application. 
  • Please note that property owner permission is required to apply water credits to new development at the site.

Are processing fees required for the WDO Application?

  • Yes. WDO Applications will be subject to processing fees to recover the cost of processing the application. 
  • Alternative compliance proposals are subject to additional processing fees as needed (see ‘Alternative Compliance’  section below for more information).

How do I obtain a WDO Agreement? 

  • City staff will review each WDO Application, prepare a WDO Agreement, and route the Agreement to the property owner for signatures and notarization. 
  • While preparing the WDO Agreement, staff may need to request additional information and/or make adjustments to water demand calculations and/or WDO Fee calculations to ensure compliance with the WDO Policy and fee structure. 
  • There are two versions of the WDO Agreement. One is for applicants who choose the WDO Fee method. The other is for applicants who have a City approved alternative compliance method for achieving water demand offsets. Both of the WDO Agreements templates are posted online here
  • If an Applicant is proposing an alternative compliance method for achieving water demand offsets (instead of paying the WDO Fee), staff may need to request additional information prior to preparing the Agreement.

What if I disagree with the final requirements in the Agreement? 

  • There may be instances in which an applicant does not agree with staff’s final decision about the water demand calculation and resulting fee (or requirements for the applicant’s proposed alternative compliance method). The City has an appellate process for those situations. 
  • If an applicant wishes to protest staff’s final decision, the applicant must submit a written protest to the Board of Public Utilities within fifteen (15) days of notice of the final staff decision. The protest should be submitted via email at WaterResources@srcity.org. The Board of Public Utilities will review the appeal at a scheduled hearing and provide its decision.
  • If an applicant wishes to appeal the decision of the Board of Public Utilities, the Applicant must submit a written appeal to the City Council within ninety (90) days of the final decision of the Board of Public Utilities. The appeal should be submitted via email at WaterResources@srcity.org. The City Council will review the appeal at a scheduled hearing and provide its decision.
  • After exhausting these appellate processes, the applicant may file a judicial action to review, set aside, or void the imposition of the fee pursuant to the provisions of the Mitigation Fee Act.


WDO Fees

How much will I have to pay in WDO Fees?

  • The WDO Application helps Applicants estimate the water demand for each element of each project and the resulting WDO Fee. 
  • The fee structure, current through December 31, 2022, is outlined in the table below. This is derived from the most recent Fee Study, available on Santa Rosa’s WDO webpage here. The City will adjust the fees for inflation on an annual basis at the beginning of each calendar year (January 1).
Type of DevelopmentWDO Fee
Residential Per Housing Unit
Single Family Residential
Small Lot (6,000 square feet and under)
$1,964
Large/Medium Lot (over 6,000 square feet to 1 acre) 
$2,782
Large Lot (over 1 acre)
$5,047
Duplexes and Triplexes per unit$1,649
Condos, Apartments Mobile Homes per unit
with separate irrigation service
$1,259
without separate irrigation service
$1,498
Eligible accessory dweling units (ADUs), Senior Housing, Single-Room Occupancy, and Small, High-Density Apartments per Unit.*$868
Commercial, Industrial, Institutional and Irrigation (CII)
Per thousand-gallon unit (TGAL) per month$415

*Applies to ADUs that are subject to Demand Fees (larger than 750 square feet). Small, High-Density apartments are 750 square feet and smaller.


When do I have to pay the WDO Fees or complete my City approved alternative compliance method for achieving offsets?

  • The WDO Fee (or completion of an approved alternative compliance method) will be due when an applicant is seeking final inspection or occupancy of any type – but only if the City is in a declared water shortage emergency that requires existing to customers to adhere to site-specific water allocations (water “rations”) at that time. 
  • Under the 2020 Water Shortage Contingency Plan, water rationing and WDO requirements occur in shortage Stages 5-8. The 2020 Water Shortage Contingency Plan is available on the Water Supply Planning webpage here
  • If Santa Rosa is NOT in a declared water shortage emergency that requires water allocations for existing customers at that time, then the water demand offsets will not be needed, and WDO Fees (or alternative compliance method) will not be due. 
  • More information on Santa Rosa’s water shortage stages and response actions can be found in Santa Rosa’s Water Shortage Contingency Plan, available here.

How will WDO Fees be used to achieve water demand offsets?

  • Collected WDO Fees will be used to fund City demand management efforts, water supply projects, and/or water conservation programs to offset new water demands. For example, three proven conservation projects that could be implemented are described in the WDO Fee Study available here.
  • Collected WDO Fees will be administered in a separate job ledger account to track fee use, quantify implementation progress, and maintain compliance with the Mitigation Fee Act (Gov. Code Section 66000 and following).

Is there an opportunity to reduce WDO Fees once they are included in the WDO Agreement?

  • If the applicant is amending their building permit and the changes will result in decreased water demand for the project, the applicant may request that the WDO Agreement be reviewed and considered for amendment to reflect the new, reduced demand.


Alternative Compliance

Can I propose an alternative compliance method to achieving water demand offsets, instead of paying a WDO Fee?

  • Yes. The WDO Policy allows applicants to propose any alternative compliance method that they believe will achieve the required water demand offset. Alternative compliance proposals are subject to review and approval. 
  • Potential methods might include (but are not limited to): Applicant funded and implemented water conservation projects at existing customer sites within Santa Rosa’s service area or transferring ownership of a permitted public drinking water supply source to the City.

What is required for an alternative project?

  • The WDO Application provides tables for determining the amount of new water demand that must be offset. Alternative projects must achieve the offsets and meet any applicable standards. 
  • For the City to consider an alternative compliance method, the applicant must include a detailed description of the proposed method with their WDO Application, and then subsequently provide any studies, plans, reports, and analyses as deemed required by the staff to assess whether the alternative will meet applicable standards and provide the required water demand offset.

When do I have to complete the alternative compliance project?

  • The WDO Fee (or completion of an approved alternative compliance method) will be due when the applicant is seeking final inspection or occupancy of any type – but only if the City of Santa Rosa is in a declared water shortage emergency that requires existing to customers to adhere to site-specific water allocations (water “rationing”) at that time. 
  • Under the 2020 Water Shortage Contingency Plan, water rationing and WDO requirements occur in shortage Stages 5-8. The 2020 Water Shortage Contingency Plan is available on the Water Supply Planning webpage here
  • If Santa Rosa is NOT in a declared water shortage emergency that requires water allocations for existing customers at that time, then the water demand offsets will not be needed, and WDO Fees (or alternative compliance method) will not be due. 
  • More information on the various water shortage stages can be found in Santa Rosa’s Water Shortage Contingency Plan, available on the Water Supply Planning webpage here.

How much will I have to pay for this alternative compliance method instead of paying the WDO Fees?

  • Alternative compliance projects are subject to processing fees to recover Santa Rosa’s cost to make a determination on the proposed alternative and (if the alternative is approved) to conduct any subsequent inspections, water use analyses, or other actions as needed to ensure the approved alternative complies with applicable standards and achieves the required offsets. 
  • The cost of implementing an approved alternative compliance method will be borne by the applicant. 


Background and Additional Information

What has the City done to plan for the long-range water needs of our community?

  • Santa Rosa prepares a long-range (25-year) water supply plan every five years. The most current plan is the 2020 Urban Water Management Plan (UWMP). The 2020 UWMP details Santa Rosa’s water needs and water supplies out to 2045 for normal and dry year scenarios. The analysis includes population growth projections and new development, additional housing, and increased density anticipated in Santa Rosa’s General Plan. The UWMP considers average rainfall years and dry years, including five consecutive years of drought. During average and below average water years, the UWMP shows Santa Rosa has more than sufficient water supply out to at least 2045. However, during historically dry years, the UWMP anticipates water shortages. The Urban Water Management Plan is available on the Water Supply Planning webpage here.

What has the City done to prepare for water shortages?

  • To prepare for water shortages, the City reviews and updates its Water Shortage Contingency Plan (Shortage Plan) every five years in conjunction with the UWMP. The 2020 Shortage Plan explains how Santa Rosa will respond to eight water shortage levels that range from up to 10% (Stage 1) to over 50% (Stage 8). The Shortage Plan also provides more details about water rationing and water demand offsets for Stages 5-8. While Santa Rosa has never had to implement water rationing or offsets in the past, the Shortage Plan provides a road map should they become necessary in the future. The Water Shortage Contingency Plan is available the 2020 Water Shortage Contingency Plan on the Water Supply Planning webpage here.
  • Over the past 30 years, Santa Rosa has also adopted policies and programs to ensure new development is more efficient and to help our community achieve improvements in water use efficiency. Since the 1990s, Santa Rosa has adopted a series of building codes and local ordinances that meet or exceed State requirements for new and remodeled buildings. This includes stricter water efficiency requirements for plumbing fixtures (faucets, showerheads, toilets), appliances, and landscapes. As a result, development in Santa Rosa is built to higher efficiency standards than in the past.
  • Santa Rosa has also implemented water efficiency programs for existing water customers since 1991 to help them become more water efficient. Due to these efforts, Santa Rosa used 14% less water in 2020 than in 1990, even though population increased 53%. Per capita water use in Santa Rosa declined 44% in that time period. 

How many water shortage stages does the Santa Rosa have?

  • Santa Rosa’s Water Shortage Contingency Plan includes eight water shortage stages and outlines specific actions to respond to each level: Stage 1 includes shortages up to 10% shortage; Stage 2 is 15%; Stage 3 is 20%; Stage 4 is 25%; Stage 5 is 30%; Stage 6 is 40%; Stage 7 is 50%; and Stage 8 refers to a shortage greater than 50%. The City's Water Shortage Contingency Plan includes more details about each stage and is available on the Water Supply Planning webpage here.

How does the City respond to water shortage Stages 1-4 (10% to 25% shortage)?

  • In water shortage Stages 1-4 (10% to 25% shortages), Santa Rosa's water conservation target is a communitywide effort. Santa Rosa asks all water customers to reduce use according to their ability to collectively achieve the conservation target. In addition, Santa Rosa implements prohibitions and restrictions on how water can be used, to eliminate water waste and minimize non-essential uses. However, during shortage Stages 1-4 water rationing is not required. Santa Rosa closely monitors total community-wide water use to ensure the reduction target is being achieved. Santa Rosa also implements a very active campaign of outreach, education, and water efficiency programs to help customers reduce water use. More information about Santa Rosa’s WaterSmart programs is available here.

How does the City respond to severe water shortage Stages 5-8 (30% or greater)?

  • In water shortage Stages 5 or higher (shortages of 30% or greater), new construction is allowed to continue in Santa Rosa, provided it offsets its water demand to achieve a net zero impact on water supplies.
  • In addition, existing customers would be required to adhere to site-specific monthly water allocations (water rationing). 
  • As with all water shortage levels, Santa Rosa would also implement prohibitions and restrictions to eliminate water waste and reduce non-essential use. 
  • Further, Santa Rosa would implement an outreach and education campaign and promote WaterSmart programs described here.
  • More information about Santa Rosa’s Water Shortage Contingency Plan is available on Santa Rosa’s Water Supply Planning webpage here.

Other questions?

Please contact the Water Resources Department at WaterResources@srcity.org