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Basements brew neighborhood concern about water, trees

Original post made on May 29, 2008

The latest no-no in Palo Alto neighborhoods isn't speeding commuters, redwood removers or unkempt gardens — it's basements.

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Comments (8)

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Posted by Is Peter serious?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 29, 2008 at 12:19 pm

Is Peter serious?

""I don't have enough information to say groundwater pumping is necessarily terrible, but it seems very suspicious to me," Vice Mayor Peter Drekmeier said."

So what makes it suspicious too him? Care to elaborate, Peter or did you think the soundbite was cute?

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on May 29, 2008 at 1:20 pm

Since the groundwater might be contaminated, why not require a hazardous waste permit?

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Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on May 29, 2008 at 2:48 pm

Anyone who digs a basement into the water table will be punished enough in due time.

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Posted by Not enough information
a resident of Midtown
on May 29, 2008 at 8:42 pm

If he doesn't have enough information he either shouldn't speak, or he should take the time to find out.
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 29, 2008 at 9:06 pm

This issue of ground water being removed to build basements is an old one, it bubbles to the surface every ten years or so. However, I do have sympathy for those living next door to where the ground water is being removed because they are subject to possible subsidence.

In my neighborhood the water table is less than 4 ft.; a new house was built on my street with a sunken bedroom which got flooded the first time it really rained!!

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Posted by D
a resident of Midtown
on May 30, 2008 at 2:34 pm

Tap roots can go down deeper than 4-5 feet as suggested by the arborist. So removing 5-10 million gallons surely will affect nearby trees. How do people think trees grow so nice and big in Palo Alto without irrigation?

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Posted by B
a resident of College Terrace
on May 30, 2008 at 2:47 pm

Pumping the groundwater into the stormwater drains which flow to the bay is a terrible waste of good clean water. It should be collected and used to irrigate other trees in the dry months. The story indicates the water is clean!

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Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 1, 2008 at 8:46 am

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

The impact of contaminated groundwater should also play into this discussion. Palo Alto has extensive shallow groundwater contamination from the Superfund sites, leaking gas stations and other spill sites. These originate in the commercial and industrial areas. The contaminated groundwater plumes are regionally extensive extending for a mile.

Enter basement groundwater pumping. Unintentionally the pumping can cause these plumes to move and extend their impact. Furthermore, the pumping draws the contamination out of the shallow soils and moves it to creeks where it can pose an ecological impact (the Oregon Expressway underpass pumping caused this). Furthermore, a recently understood risk is vapor intrusion from volatiloe contaminants (TCE and benzene) that evolve from the groundwater. This is an issue of concern to the Mountain View neighborhood around Whisman and Middlefield. As plumes might be moved by basement pumping, the extent of zones where vapor intrusion risk grows expands.

The planning department likely considers the occurrence of these spills when they permit basements, and if not, they should. They should, and likely do, ask that the homeowner test the discharge before putting it into the storm drain.

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