Outside water use

The current level is 0 Blue – careful use.

Outside Water Use By-law

Outside Water Use Program

The City’s Outside Water Use Program (OWUP) has become one of the most successful and recognized water conservation programs in Ontario, thanks to the support of Guelph residents. As many Guelphites know, Guelph is Canada’s largest community to be reliant almost exclusively on groundwater for its water supply. Since groundwater takes much longer to replenish after drought-like conditions than surface water, it’s a lot more vulnerable to overuse.

About the Outdoor Water Use Program

The OWUP was created in 2002 in response to the Ontario Low Water Response Plan. The OWUP program objectives are to conserve Guelph’s groundwater supply and protect against the impact of drought during the hot, dry summer months. Amendments to the program and by-law were later completed through a comprehensive review process in 2013. These amendments were developed to reflect changing weather patterns and a growing community.

The Program has three levels that affect residential outside water use. These levels are triggered by dry weather and local watershed conditions.

Level 0 Blue
Careful use

Level 1 Yellow
Reduce outside use

The Outside Water Use Program is enforced by the City of Guelph Water Services division and Bylaw Enforcement Officers.

Condition reports

Keep up the good work

Today, more than 97 per cent of residents recognize and follow the levels in place each summer. This overwhelming support has helped reduce Guelph’s average summer daily water use by over 18 million litres!

Lawn watering permits issued under the Outside Water Use Program

Lawn watering permits are issued by the City of Guelph to allow permit holders the ability to water their lawns for a specified number of days outside the requirements of the Outside Water Use By-law. There are two types of lawn watering permits, which differ based on the circumstances requiring special lawn watering: a Treated Lawn Permit and a New Lawn Permit.

It is important to note that lawn watering permits are valid during Outside Water Use Program Level 0 – Blue, Level 1 – Yellow and Level 2 – Red. However, should conditions persist for an extended period, all lawn watering permits may be suspended and no additional permits issued.

Treated Lawn Permits

A Treated Lawn Permit allows permit holders the ability to water lawns treated with biopesticides on any day and at any time for a period of 10 days following the treatment application date.

Biopesticides are defined in the By-law to include Class 11 pesticides, classified under the Pesticides Act as microorganisms that control pests (microbial pesticides, such as nematodes, or a pesticidal substance produced by a plant(s) containing added genetic material (plant-incorporated protectants, such as Sarritor or Fiesta).

New Lawn Permits

A New Lawn Permit allows a permit holder to water newly-laid sod or a newly-seeded lawn outside of the normal alternate day watering restrictions for a period of 30 days.

How to obtain a Lawn Watering Permit

Permits can be purchased by the registered property owner at Guelph Water Services, located at 29 Waterworks Place (just off York Road), or by calling the Outside Water Use Program at 519-822-1260 extension 2153.

Permits are valid as of the date and time of issue. Once issued, the permit will be sent to your residence to be posted in the window. There is a $10.00 administration fee for each permit. This fee can be paid in person with cash or added to your water billing account.


Even new and treated lawns should not be over watered. A good way to check if your lawn has enough water is to step on it. If your footprint is left on the grass, stop watering for the time being. Over watering can be harmful to lawn health, and can also cause water to pool and run off onto paved surfaces, which is prohibited at all times under the Outside Water Use By-law and could result in a violation.

Improperly designed, installed or maintained irrigation systems can result in significant over-watering, excessive water consumption, and potential damage to property.If you have, or plan to install, an automatic irrigation system, ensure your irrigation contractor is a Select Certified Irrigation Association professional, with training as a:

Their training emphasizes a commitment to efficient water management.

In order to reduce the need for irrigation, landscape your yard and garden with plants that require little or no water beyond natural rainfall. You can still enjoy all the colour, vibrancy and beauty Mother Nature has to offer, while reducing your outdoor water demands. Check out Healthy Landscapes for great information on creating water–efficient landscapes.

Questions to think about for your current or proposed irrigation system:

  1. Do you have a rain sensor?
  2. Has your contractor proposed ways for you to reduce your water use?
  3. Do you have water efficient products such as drip irrigation and pressure regulated sprinklers?
  4. Is your contractor certified? To find out visit: irrigation.org/hirecertified
  5. Does you irrigation system layout ensure spray heads and rotary style sprinklers are not combined on the same zone?

Does the Outside Water Use Program permit the use of sprinklers as a way to cool off in the summer?

Yes. Recreational use of water, such as with children’s sprinklers or slip-n-slides is permitted anytime in Levels 0 (Blue), 1 (Yellow) and 2 (Red).Another way to stay cool while conserving outside water is to make use of water toys or small containers filled with water to keep children and pets cool on a hot day. They are as efficient as running through a sprinkler.

Do I need a permit to use water in my fertilizer/pesticide/herbicide applications?

Yes. A treated Lawn permit is required for prolonged watering outside of alternate date/time guidelines. For permit information call the Outside Water Use line at 519-822-1260 extension 2153. Please follow the instructions on the container carefully or ask a local lawn care professional for advice on the different watering requirements of various treatments.

What type of enforcement is there?

The program is actively enforced during program levels 1 and 2 by the City’s By-law Enforcement Officers. By-law officers will issue a $150 ticket or court summons per program non-compliance event observed, especially in program levels 1 Yellow and 2 Red. The program is also enforced in the Blue level but the City is especially committed to education at this level.

Where can customers find additional program information, including the current program level?

Additional information and the current program level will be provided to customers through the following means:

  • In the City News section of the Guelph Tribune’s Thursday edition
  • On our web site at guelph.ca/water
  • Via the City’s social media accounts, see guelph.ca/social
  • By calling the Outside Water Use Program phone line at 519-822-1260 extension 2153
  • By e-mail at owup@guelph.ca
  • Through local radio: CJOY 1460 and Magic FM 106.1
  • On road signs located around the city

What actions are considered to be wasting water activities?

Common actions of wasting water may include:

  • Permitting an irrigation system to run during a rainstorm;
  • Permitting water to pool or run-off any lawn or garden through over irrigation:
  • Directing water onto a paved surface, including driveways, sidewalks, or roadways during irrigation;
  • Operating a fountain or pond without recirculating the water;
  • Washing any vehicle or the outside of a building with the use of a hose not equipped with a shut-off nozzle;
  • Using flowing water instead of dry sweeping to remove loose debris from a residential driveway, unless failure to do so would cause permanent damage or lead to unsafe conditions.
  • It is important that citizens avoid these activities as the program prohibits wasting water. Engaging in water wasting activities can lead to charges under the Outside Water Use By-Law.

I need to stain my deck/re-seal my driveway/paint my house but I need to wash the surface first. Can I use a power-washer to do that?

Yes, this is an activity that is exempt from the program. All we ask is that you do it efficiently and use a shut-off nozzle on your power washer. However, if you simply intend to clean loose debris your deck or driveway please conserve water by dry sweeping rather than using flowing water to do the job.

Is Guelph the only community with an Outside Water Use Program in place?

No. Guelph’s program is similar to the programs offered by many of our neighbouring municipalities. Like us, the cities of Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, Brantford, and the townships of Guelph/Eramosa, Centre-Wellington, North Dumphries, Wellesley, Wilmot and Woolwich all have outside water use programs in place to regulate non-essential use in times of drought and environmental stress. Like Guelph, other communities have to comply with the requirements of the Province’s Low Water Response Plan, which was developed to help Ontario manage problems associated with drought.

What is the City doing to ensure there is enough water available to all users?

As outlined in the Water Supply Master Plan, the City is seeking new sources of water, building additional water storage reservoirs, and promoting water conservation and efficient use. These activities will help meet the needs of new growth. However, building additional storage is very expensive and will lead to increases in the cost of water. Customers can help reduce costs through efficient outside water use during hot, dry summer months.The City is also involved in other initiatives to decrease water demand and increase water supply:

  • A water conservation and efficiency program aims to reduce 2006 daily water takings by 20 per cent (10.6 million litres of water per day) by 2025
  • A program to optimize the capacity of existing City wells
  • A water exploration program at the Arkell Springs well field
  • A proactive leak reduction program

Where can I get more information on lawn care?

The City of Guelph’s Healthy Landscape Program provides information on a variety of gardening topics including drought tolerant and native plant selection, proactive landscaping maintenance practices and natural pest control alternatives. For information on the City’s Healthy Landscapes program please visit guelph.ca/healthylandscapes.An abundance of information is also available from local lawn care professionals as well as lawn and garden centres. Please consult the yellow pages directory for further information.

Do commercial properties have the same water restrictions?

Yes. The Outside Water Use By-law applies to all properties located in the City of Guelph serviced via the municipal water supply.

Why does the City need watering restrictions?

Guelph relies heavily on groundwater. Groundwater is more limited than surface water, which makes water conservation a priority for us, especially in the hot and dry summer months. Watering restrictions are a way for the City to manage outside water use and meet its regulatory requirements as a permit to take water holder. The program is intended to be user friendly and was developed through input received from residents and other stakeholders on how to best transition our water use during times of drought.

Why is the City allowing residential growth if there is not sufficient water available for existing customers?

Even with community growth there remains sufficient water supply available to meet the ongoing demands of both new and existing residents. In fact, since 2003, the City of Guelph’s population has increased by approximately 12 percent, but the average daily drinking water production has actually decreased by 13 per cent through the same period. This is a result of the Guelph community’s success in conserving water through initiatives such as the Outside Water Use Program.Historically, the requirement for the City to implement outdoor water use restrictions has been driven by demand reductions as defined through the Ontario Low Water Response Plan (OLWRP). The OLWRP monitors conditions throughout the local watershed and calls for reductions in water takings from the City, and other private permit to take water holders should set thresholds be met by reduced river flows, precipitation and other environmental indicators during periods of seasonal drought. For more information on the Ontario Low Water Response Plan please visit the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources website.

Why is Nestle able to take water from the aquifer while residents of Guelph are being asked to conserve?

Nestle Waters Canada and other industries possess private wells and individual Permits to Take Water for business purposes. These sources are independent of the municipal water system and as such exempt from the requirements of the Outside Water Use By-law. Individual Permits to Take Water are issued by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and possess requirements for Permit to take water holders to reduce water use during times of drought or environmental stress in accordance with the Ontario Low Water Response Plan. For questions regarding individual permits to take water and associated requirements please contact the Ontario Ministry of the Environment Public Information Centre at 416-325-4000 or picemail.moe@ontario.ca.

Can I use my automated irrigation/sprinkler system to water my lawn?

Yes, you can use an automated irrigation/sprinkler system to water your lawn but system operation must comply with the water restrictions of the Outside Water Use Program level which is in place.If you are using an automated irrigation/sprinkler system it is highly recommended that the system be equipped with a smart controller and a rain sensor or soil moisture sensor to ensure the most efficient application of water through irrigation.

My lawn is brown, is it dead?

Letting a lawn go dormant is ok. The length of time a lawn can be dormant without killing the turf depends on grass species, soil type, depth of topsoil, exposure (sun vs. shade), slope, etc. A lawn can usually be dormant for 5-6 weeks without damaging the grass. A dormant lawn is fragile. Make sure you keep traffic off of it and stop mowing or fertilizing.If you are letting a lawn go dormant, commit to doing that. Bringing a lawn in and out of dormancy is very hard on it and exhausts its carbohydrate reserves.

How much water is enough for my lawn to maintain a healthy and vital appearance?

Lawns typically need 2.5 cm (1 inch) of water per week. Set an empty container or rain gauge near the sprinkler to measure the amount of water used. Stop watering when the container is one inch full.It is recommended that lawn watering be completed slowly, deeply and less often, to encourage deeper, more vigorous root growth. Always soak the soil thoroughly. A light sprinkling can often do more harm than no water at all. By watering less frequently you encourage the plant roots to search down for water, and they become stronger and better able to handle drought conditions.

Can I bring in a water truck to water trees or gardens?

Private watering services are required to adhere to the level and terms of the program if sourcing their water from the Guelph municipal supply.  Please review the current Outside Water Program Level to ensure landscape watering is completed in compliance with program terms.

Can I use a hose or sprinkler to water my gardens, or do I have to use a watering can?

There are no restrictions on how you water you gardens. In order to maintain compliance during level 2 red, please make sure that the hose or sprinkler is not watering the lawn at the same time as you are watering your gardens.