Water Demand Offset (WDO) Program

What is the Water Demand Offset Program?

The Water Demand Offset (WDO) Program was implemented in 2003 to allow development to continue, conserve water and to not further impact the overdrafted groundwater basin. The WDO Policy (Resolution No. 13-17) requires the following development projects to offset 1.6 times the amount of water the project is projected to use so that there is a "net positive impact" on the District's water supply:

  • Development projects requiring a new water service;
  • Development projects with an existing water service that are undergoing a change in use that is expected to increase water demand, as determined using District established water use factors; and
  • Existing commercial customers that are adding new square footage.

Calculating the Water Demand Offset Requirement

The WDO requirement for a new development is based on the District's water use factor for the development type (e.g., single-family home, apartment, condominium, office, retail store, restaurant, etc.) and the size of the new development. For existing development projects undergoing a change in use where water use is expected to increase, the future water demand is calculated the same way as for a new development minus the existing annual water use. Therefore, the project is required to offset the new or additional water demand. The demand values were determined from several studies of average water use at each property type and size and have been modified since the program began in 2003 to reflect advances in plumbing.

An offset multiplier of 1.6 is then applied to the WDO requirement so that the project's water demand is offset by 160% to 200%. Thus, new construction helps to reduce water use overall.

For planning purposes you can download the New Applicant Water Demand Offset Form to see how the WDO requirement is calculated for your specific type of development.

  • To assure the WDO requirement is properly calculated for a given project, the project applicant must first contact the District and present the proposed building plans.
  • At the time new water service or expanded water service is requested, the District will provide the developer/applicant with an estimate of the project's WDO requirements. After the District's Board of Directors issues a Conditional Will Serve letter and a building permit or tentative development map has been issued by the County of Santa Cruz or City of Capitola, the WDO requirements may be met and paid for.

Completing your Water Demand Offset Requirement

The Water Demand Offset requirements have changed over time and previously we required applicants to locate older inefficient toilets to retrofit. As of June 17th, 2014, all projects will now satisfy their offset requirements by paying a WDO fee equivalent to $55,000 per acre foot of offset. This fee represents the cost of achieving actual water savings for existing customers through retrofits of old inefficient fixtures to new water efficient fixtures.  After June 17th, this money will be used to retrofit the existing high volume plumbing fixtures at public schools within the District service area to lower volume fixtures that conform to upcoming efficiency requirements.  This will satisfy the offset requirements of the developers as well as help the schools come into compliance with the upcoming requirements at reduced costs.  Please meet with conservation staff to discuss any questions regarding your specific project.

Applicants shall only pay the WDO fee after a building permit (or a tentative map) has been reviewed by conservation staff.

Once the WDO requirement has been met, changing the ownership of the site or minor details of the project will not affect the offset credit that has been approved. However, changes in water use or additions to the project may require additional water demand calculations.

Green Building Credits

Add green building components to your project and receive a lowered WDO requirement – You may reduce the WDO requirement for your project by going beyond the minimum water efficiency requirements for toilets, showerheads, turf, washing machines, etc. 

The WDO Go Green Credit option reduces offset requirements and project costs for the applicant and lowers water consumption for the new building. 

Click here to download the WDO Green Credit fact sheet for residential or commercial properties. Click here for the Indoor and Landscape Water Use Efficiency Ordinances.

Questions? 831-475-8500 ext. 144

Call Conservation staff at extension 144 if you have any questions regarding the WDO requirements or the "Go Green" Program.

For all requirements of new or expanded construction and change of use requirements, see Residential or Commercial Construction section.

WDO program documents

WDO Green Credits Program fact sheets: