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Massive Sierra wildfire could affect Palo Alto water source

Original post made on Aug 28, 2013

The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which provides Palo Alto with its water, could be affected by the huge wildfire burning near Yosemite, but the city will not be without a good water supply if the reservoir shuts down, a City of Palo Alto Utilities spokeswoman said.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, August 27, 2013, 11:25 PM

Comments (15)

Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2013 at 10:31 am

This fire poses another risk to our water supply which was generally
unforeseen by most people and just underscores our public policy failures broadly speaking here in Palo Alto. We are also experiencing the driest calendar year ever recorded as we approach the next rainy season which is unpredictable with a backdrop of climatic change and weather extremes seen worldwide. Yet the pro-development policies pursued in Palo Alto treat water as a non-issue, of unlimited supply in pro-growth strategies. We still allow unrestricted basement construction in Palo Alto with dewatering, only disallowed in the flood zone by FEMA, which can easily result in the wasting of 5-6 million gallons of water or more on a typical single-family lot, pumped out over a period of months and sent into the Bay.Besides wasting a precious resource, water, this can cause harm to nearby landscaping and trees and can contribute to subsidence. Avoiding large-scale subsidence requires continuing recharging of ground water with imported water. These basement constructions put 6 or 7 bedroom houses in an already over-crowded school system as well. Anybody out there think the City Council broadly speaking should step back and actually consider the impacts of what it is doing- on long-term sustainability, quality of life, the character of the City, the environment from a public policy standpoint?




Posted by Chrisc, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 28, 2013 at 11:07 am

Resided: excellent point. Yet another way those of us in small dwellings and with limited funds are subsidizing "The Haves" in this community.


Posted by drink, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Aug 28, 2013 at 11:29 am

cloudy water,drink up!


Posted by Frustrated, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 28, 2013 at 11:50 am

In my midtown neighborhood, which is in the FEMA flood zone, a house was officially removed from the flood zone by the city many years ago, which now has allowed the owners to build a new house with a basement. I calculated the water they had drained off to build the basement, which flowed down the storm drain, at over 10 million gallons in about 3 months, last summer and fall. I was told that during the winter the water level would return to the pre-draining level, but I have no idea whether this is true, and if we do need the water for daily use, 10,000,000 gallons might make a difference.
Very frustrating to watch all this water go to waste!


Posted by Also in Midtown, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 28, 2013 at 11:57 am

@ frustrated

The same thing happened behind my house a few years ago. A big house either removed from the flood zone or right next to it was built with a basement. When there is a basement, not only is water pumped out during construction, but a pump is also permanently installed to remove "excess" water after rain storms. So, the water table is permanently lowered.

As a result, we have seen the many redwoods of another adjacent neighbor dying over the last several years from lack of water. This older neighbor with the redwoods cannot easily afford to constantly water the trees. They are indeed dying. It's actually sad to see.


Posted by member, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 28, 2013 at 12:26 pm

In any and all government contract there is a term called "Force Majeure" which refers to an unexpected or uncontrollable event which releases the obligation of the contract. The state of California is now in a force majeure situation. The Governor has stated that. The rainy season has not yet begun - it will cause further damage due to mud slides and electrical outages, and water outages.

The rational for high housing development is no longer applicable - we will not be able to sustain it in the bay area. The whole topic of water and sustainability needs to be rethought. If any one uses the term "mandate" regarding transportation and urban development then the authority for that is challengeable in a court of law. My bet is that the amount of money that will be required to fix this situation is going to be very high - the Governor should be tapping all resources at this time.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 28, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Please recognize that the underground streams of water are not reservoirs --- the water does move and drain downhill.

Sorry to hear about the Redwoods - but most Redwoods don't have deep roots, so I don't know if you can say the water table is the issue...as much as the long-term drought in the last 10 years.

Further, (and people hate to hear this) Redwoods are not a native species to the Palo Alto area. For the most part, they were planted by humans. Redwoods belong in areas where the their leaves and branches can harvest moisture from fog and/or damp air...such as the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Check out any photo of Palo Alto from the turn of the 20th Century...outside of El Palo Alto, you will not see many, if any, photos of evergreen trees.


Posted by Aquamarine, a resident of Stanford
on Aug 28, 2013 at 1:35 pm

How provincial that this article only mentions Palo Alto as a local town getting water from Hetch Hetchy.


Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Surface irrigation and moisture content of the air for the redwood are key factors but the depth of the roots can vary and if they are in the range of up to about 10 feet which is likely they can be into the water table which also varies in depth. During the basement excavation period the water table was probably drawn down more and the nearby redwoods were under greater stress during this period as well as a continued lower water table. I would go with the empirical evidence provided by the resident that the decline of the nearby redwoods coincided with and followed the basement excavation.
I would like to know also how old these redwoods are. Even the City's consultant allowed that adjacent trees and landscaping can be harmed even by the temporary effects of dewatering. In a recent article, our City forester, Walter Passmore, said that the roots of El Palo Alto could run at least 25 feet or deeper.


Posted by member, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 28, 2013 at 3:53 pm

I agree Aquamarine. This is a state-wide problem. We pay our taxes to the State of California and property taxes to the county of Santa Clara. FEMA is a federal program. Palo Alto is a small city as to acreage. Our ability to impact events is beyond us. The state in total has a water problem and a sustainability problem. Think about the bay area in total - water will be re-allocated and amount sent south diminished. This is going to affect everyone.


Posted by Aquamarine, a resident of Stanford
on Aug 28, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Indeed, member. The surrounding communities who use Hetch Hetchy are relevant and this article is lacking in information that connects and impacts all of us. It's written as is Palo Alto were its own island, unconnected to others who may face the same issues, and how we impact each other at times like this. While at home many of us are quite mindful of water use, many large organizations are not. Remember when Starbucks had water running constantly? Unconscionable.


Posted by Steve C, a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 28, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Nice to see that some folks are paying attention. Seems that groundwater is ignored here as well as in other areas of the country, particularly where the fracking operations are in full force. It's extremely short-sighted and disheartening.
As for the MacMansions, every time a traditional single level family home/bungallo changes hands, down it goes and up goes the most square footage possible under zoning restrictions. I know these new homes are probably fairly energy efficient, maybe quite a bit more efficient than the original home(arguably), but no construction is perfect energy-wise. All of these homes are adding the bulk of the new square footage on the upper floors, and all that extra square footage has to be heated and cooled. So overall, the energy footprint of all this development is not looking good. Hope we turn the corner and stop shooting ourselves in the feet.


Posted by Also in Midtown, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 28, 2013 at 9:07 pm

@ resident of another PA neighborhood

To answer your question on the age of the trees, I can tell you they were indeed planted by our neighbor when she moved from La Honda to Palo Alto about 60-63 years ago.

Several of them are large enough to be considered protected by our local ordinances.

I know they were not here a hundred years ago. However, they seemed to be thriving before the house with basement was built next door, and they had been very nice to have around. Now they are in bad shape.


Posted by Also in Midtown, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 28, 2013 at 9:10 pm

Actually, I am even worried that one the trees might fall on my roof if it breaks, and damage my house badly as well as potentially hurt one of us. The whole top of the tree looks dead, as opposed to its lower section. It looks like the whole top could snap and fall on us.


Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2013 at 10:57 pm

@Also in Midtown
Poor soil could be a factor but lack of irrigation/water probably
made the redwoods distressed and susceptible to infestation with
a dead top on one of them.That dead top should be removed if
possible. A large redwood on El Camino across from the BevMo in Menlo Park looks stressed and had a dead top. I think the City has recently removed the top.

What is so disturbing about your neighbor's situation is that these
redwoods are almost certainly protected under the City Heritage Tree
ordinance yet a dewatering was approved on an adjacent property and
despite the City's denials of impacts from such dewaterings these trees are dying. This is the kind of information which must be
disseminated throughout the community. The wasting of the precious
water resource in the millions of gallons to accommodate a basement
is shocking in a drought susceptible area such as this without even
considering the collateral damage to heritage trees.


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