Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - November 19, 2010

Do split jurisdictions create enforcement gaps?

Palo Alto shares jurisdiction relating to groundwater safety with a regional state agency, the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board.

"But they don't work together to contain the plume," according to Palo Alto Director of Planning and Community Environment Curtis Williams.

"If they have a report that is submitted for monitoring for a specific site, we don't review it," Williams said. He was referring specifically to containment efforts of contaminated groundwater near the Oregon Expressway underpass, known officially as the Oregon Expressway Underpass Subdrain.

"They have jurisdiction over it," he said.

The subdrain treats the eastern edge of a large plume with an "air-stripper" that allows contaminates to evaporate, or "off-gas," into the atmosphere — itself a cause for some concern.

Air stripping was replaced last year with newer treatment technology at Superfund sites in Mountain View after residents raised concerns over exposure to airborne carcinogens.

The air-stripper machines remove contaminants from up to 600 gallons of water per minute before discharging it into a creek.

In reviewing individual projects, city staff members say they will utilize the water board's website and reports but seldom consult directly with the agency because of bureaucratic difficulties.

—Sarah Trauben and Georgia Wells

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