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Palo Alto high and dry?

Original post made on Nov 28, 2007

Like the rest of the state, Palo Alto and Bay Area face future crisis over how to manage water supply

The water bubbles up at the Pulgas Water Temple near Cañada Road, a monument to a Herculean effort: moving massive amounts of water to the arid Bay Area from the Sierras. On Oct. 28, 1934, the mountain waters roaring through the pipeline from Hetch Hetchy was a watershed event.

Photos by Norbert von der Groeben/Palo Alto Online.

Related stories:

  • The high price of water

  • Saving a gallon at a time

    Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, November 27, 2007, 10:31 AM
  • Comments (30)

    Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
    on Nov 28, 2007 at 1:20 am

    This is another reason to put a stop to suburban sprawl


    Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
    on Nov 28, 2007 at 7:06 am

    Another reason to build the Auburn and Round Mountain dams. We drink water bacause of 20th century prudence. The cost of alternatives to the collection and storage of excess water flow will require more energy, another commodity made artifically scarce.


    Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
    on Nov 28, 2007 at 8:50 am

    From one of the articles in this series: "The consumer price (of water) could triple.

    In spite of this excellent Weekly reporting - and similar reports over the past few years - most Palo Alto (and California) residents are not paying attention.

    We need some strong policy directives in this - policy that *mandates* reductions in water use.

    I don't know how we would go about this,, from a logistical standpoint, but we need to create disincentives for wasteful water use. Included in that category would be using water (unless somehow recirculated and reclaimed) for lawns, car washing, surface cleaning (sidewalks, home decks), etc. These unnecessary and frivolous uses of water (in a water-constrained environment like California) are what cause the end consumer cost and logistical infrastructure cost load to rise.

    Too many citizens will simply not be concerned with the fact that they are using thousands of gallons per year to water their lawns, and so on.

    We require leadership on this issue; it won't be popular, but it needs to be done.


    Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
    on Nov 28, 2007 at 11:39 am

    How about increasing the supply? It could be readily doubled by engineering works that sutain the ecology of the rivers. The coming shortage is a consequence of putting the needs of people behind the fancied needs of supposed fauna.


    Posted by Walter Mitty, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
    on Nov 28, 2007 at 11:46 am

    We're fauna, too, Walter - or hasn't Darwin sunk in yet?


    Posted by Recycled-Water-Is-OK, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Nov 28, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    Palo Alto can double its supply of water by recycling the waste water and using it for non-potable uses. This requires some additional pipe to get the water from the baylands to the locations where it is needed, but this infrastructure does not need to be built overnight. Trucking the water to small reservoirs in parks would provide a first step towards decreasing our use of Hetch Hetchy water.


    Posted by Greg, a resident of Southgate
    on Nov 28, 2007 at 4:19 pm

    Imagine off shore, perhpas submerged, nuclear power plants that supply all of our electrical needs PLUS distilled water for our drinking needs. It is current technology. All that is missing is the political will, to allow it to happen.


    Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Nov 28, 2007 at 4:26 pm

    If we really wanted to save water, then the over watering of our playing fields would save a considerable amount. Many of our schools and parks irrigation systems stay on year round, even in the rainy season, and plenty are waterlogged even in the middle of summer. I have seen trucks with non-potable water used for irrigation at
    Shoreline Park and along Highway 280, so I am sure that similar systems could be used to transport grey water to our parks and schools. I also expect that transferring more grass playing fields to synthetic turf would make a difference in overall water consumption but of course the initial outlay would be expensive. Still, if the city saved money from experimental road calming activities every couple of years, money could be saved and used for other more cost efficient measures.


    Posted by Greg, a resident of Southgate
    on Nov 28, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    Why bother with all that grey water stuff? Just use the abundant energy from nuclear power to produce tertiary treatment of waste water, then combine it with distilled water from the nuke plants themselves, and use the exisiting plumbing system. Huge savings on CO2 emmissions, too. Problem solved.


    Posted by Recycled-Water-Is-OK, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Nov 28, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    > Imagine off shore, perhpas submerged, nuclear power
    > plants that supply all of our electrical needs PLUS
    > distilled water for our drinking needs.

    Time to do some engineering work. Nuclear power plants in the '70s that used river water for cooling were observed to raise the temperature of the river water to a point that fish died.

    Best to figure out just how such a plant might work, and what problems it create with the surrounding water mass before jumping on this bandwagon.


    Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
    on Nov 29, 2007 at 4:14 am

    Recycling also requires energy, so the cheaper the energy the cheaper the water. Cheaper means nuclear.
    Riverine plants raise water temperature, and so plant capacity needs to be matched to available river flow. This applies equally to fossile fueled plants.
    Ocean plants are an excellent solution since they can be constructed at one site, then towed to working locations.


    Posted by Greg, a resident of Southgate
    on Nov 29, 2007 at 8:13 am

    "The Russian nuclear-energy company Rosenergoatom is planning a mobile plant to deliver electricity to hard-to-reach northern territories near the White Sea, where harsh weather makes regular coal and oil fuel deliveries unreliable and expensive.

    The $200-million floating plant -- slated for construction next year -- could provide relatively inexpensive, reliable electricity to 200,000 people.

    Although the concept of a water-borne nuke plant might sound outlandish, it isn't new, nor did it originate in Russia.

    Westinghouse Electric Company considered the idea in the 1970s and built an immense dry-dock facility in Jacksonville, Florida, where plants would be launched and floated north along the Eastern Seaboard, conveniently doling out power to towns in need.

    Engineers would be able to standardize construction for multiple plants in an offsite factory with increased quality control and reduced production costs before tugging a plant to its port of call. But ultimately, says retired Westinghouse consultant Richard Orr, energy conservation following the 1973 OPEC oil embargo killed the project."

    Web Link

    Sea borne civilian nuclear plants are not a new idea, clearly. It looks like their time has finally arrived. I hope Westinghouse will reenter the game.


    Posted by Recycled-Water-Is-OK, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Nov 29, 2007 at 9:30 am

    And then there is the problem of security. Given the number of people trying to disrupt public affairs throughout the world, the idea of leaving unattended nuclear plants is daffy.


    Posted by Facts Please, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Nov 29, 2007 at 11:00 am

    This article does not seem to provide much insight into the work being done by the San Francisco Utilities rehabbing the Hetch Hetchy system:

    Web Link

    A call to their representative revealed that SFU believes they have adequate water supplies out until 2020 (and beyond).

    > A big quake would knock portions of the system off line,
    > water officials said.

    Palo Alto City Council members (particularly Beecham) have been hawking this worst case scenario for a long time now. We've had a number of "big quakes" since this system went on-line, and we have never seen it rendered unserviceable by any of these quakes yet. Even if an pipe-line segment were to be rent by a quake, it would only take a short period of time to fix that problem. One of the reports from the SF Utilities did identify a tunnel through a mountain that might take some work to fix if it were obstructed by the actions of a quake, but the likelihood of such a situation are very, very low.

    > It will be like New Orleans. It won't ever come back.

    Wow .. being without water for a few days is the same as being under water for weeks? No wonder people are walking away from "local journalism".


    Posted by Greg, a resident of Southgate
    on Nov 29, 2007 at 2:56 pm

    " the idea of leaving unattended nuclear plants is daffy."

    What are you talking about?


    Posted by Be prepared, a resident of Barron Park
    on Nov 29, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    "Even if an pipe-line segment were to be rent by a quake, it would only take a short period of time to fix that problem. "

    By that logic, why even bother to rehab Hetch Hetchy in the first place? Oh wait, in the words of the SFPUC Web site:

    "Built in the early to mid 1900's, many parts of the Hetch Hetchy water system are nearing the end of their working life. In addition, crucial portions of the system cross over or near three major earthquake faults in the Bay Area. The SFPUC, together with our 28 wholesale customers, launched a $4.3 billion Water System Improvement Program to repair, replace, and seismically upgrade the system's aging pipelines, tunnels, reservoirs, and dams. The program will deliver key goals and levels of service for water supply, seismic recovery, water quality, drought reliability and sustainability through more than 75 San Francisco and regional projects..."

    I appreciate Beecham and others looking for the worst case sencario. A major quake would not leave us waterless for "a few days." Try a month or more. If a fix could be made in a short time after a quake (think the Big One, not a Loma Prieta one), there's no point in the $4.3 billion project.

    The recent "Golden Guardian" drill in Palo Alto showed that we are not ready for worst-case scenarios. I say keep preparing.


    Posted by Recycled-Water-Is-OK, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Nov 29, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    > What are you talking about?

    From a previous posting by "Greg":

    >> Imagine off shore, perhpas submerged,
    >> nuclear power plants ...

    The term "submerged" is what I am talking about. While the posting did not specifically say "unattended", the idea of a nuclear power plant "submerged" (and unattended) does come readily to mind. The idea of building a facility that would house a crew underwater sort of boggles the mind, since there are very few (any?) facilities that people work in that are "submerged" today. It is a little easier to imagine a facility underwater that is unattended, however.

    If the poster ("Greg") would like to clarify his remarks, perhaps that would be helpful to the conversation.


    Posted by Greg, a resident of Southgate
    on Nov 29, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    Recycled,

    Glad to explain. Nuclear submarines have been around for decades. They are manned, not unmanned.

    I have never suggested, nor inferred unmanned nukes, anywhere.

    Submersible nukes, in offshore waters, make sense. They would not be subject to surface storms (or tsunamis). They would be hard to attack by terrorists. They would be out of visual sight. They would have ample cooling water. Like a submarine, they could be designed without a large concrete containment building, and they would be able to suface, and be towed to shore for maintenace. Crews would switch out using submersibles (to a mother ship, then helicopter home). The electricity produced would be delivered by undersea cable. All of this is existing technology.

    Hope that helps.


    Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
    on Nov 29, 2007 at 4:09 pm

    Sounds feasable, Greg.


    Posted by Facts Please, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Nov 29, 2007 at 4:20 pm

    > By that logic, why even bother to rehab Hetch Hetchy in the
    > first place?

    Everything needs to be rehabbed, sooner or later. There was nothing in the posting that suggested otherwise.

    > I appreciate Beecham and others looking for the worst case sencario.

    Beecham has done nothing of the sort. It's doubtful that Beecham has read the documents released by the SFU several years ago that identify the tunnel in question.

    > A major quake would not leave us waterless for "a few days."
    > Try a month or more. If a fix could be made in a short time
    > after a quake (think the Big One, not a Loma Prieta one),
    > there's no point in the $4.3 billion project.

    This statement is not true, other than in the extreme. Over the past 100 years there have been no outages in Hetch Hetchy water delivery associated with earthquakes. The current path the water takes from Hetch Hetchy to the South Bay is through the Irvington Tunnel, which is about 3.5 miles long. An earth quake would have to "hit" the mountain where this tunnel is located and then obstruct the water way in some fashion, such as collapsing the tunnel, or slicing it into two distance parts as a "strike-slip" fault might do. If the vertical displacement of this fault were to be in the range of tens of feet, then the tunnel could well become useless.

    The following is the current state of the SFU's work on the Irvington Tunnel:

    Web Link

    Web Link

    SFPUC proposes to construct a new tunnel that
    will be approximately 18,200 feet long and 10
    feet in diameter, parallel to, and just south of, the
    existing tunnel. The project will also construct
    new portals at the east and west end with
    connections for the existing and proposed
    Alameda Siphons to the east and the existing
    and proposed Bay Division Pipelines to the west.

    By the way, if a quake (think "Big One") were to actually disable one of these Irvington tunnels, it's highly likely that such a quake would disable the other one too.)

    This is the one single point-of-failure in the current system that affects water delivery to the South Bay that would involve repair in terms of "months" to repair. Since no one has any idea how bad such a tunnel could be damaged, so even the "two months" estimate is not very sound as it could be longer.

    Strike-Slip faults generally run in more-or-less straight lines, so if a segment of the distribution system were to be destroyed by an earthquake than manifests itself as a strike-slip fault, the damage would be localized to a very short length of pipe.


    Posted by Recycled-Water-Is-OK, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Nov 29, 2007 at 4:27 pm

    > Nuclear submarines have been around for decades.
    > They are manned, not unmanned.

    Nuclear submarines are not power plants, having very different purposes than power plants. Nuclear submarines are very vulnerable to attack from just about anyone, as well as being sunk by incompetence on the part of the crews.

    Terrorists would easily find a way to attack a submerged (and hence poorly protected) nuclear plant. Drug dealers have been found buying small submarines for the Caribbean drug trade. It wouldn't take a New York minute for a submerged nuclear plant to become the next World Trade Center on the terrorists "Top 10" list using these sorts of boats.

    If nuclear is to be used for such things, it would need to be on shore and well protected from the such people.


    Posted by Greg, a resident of Southgate
    on Nov 29, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    Recycled,

    Submerged nukes would probably only be vulnerable to state-sponsored attacks (not individuals, or Al Queda). States would be vulnerable to counter-attack, so they are very unlikely to attempt it. The submerged nukes would have various detection arrays for security purposes, and the Coast Guard and US military would be responders.

    All of the possible problems with nukes need to be put into the context of the possible horrors of global warming: Coastal immersions, massive world starvation, massive immigration, massive wars, etc. The comparable riks heavily favor nuclear power.


    Posted by Recycled-Water-Is-OK, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Nov 29, 2007 at 6:13 pm

    > Submerged nukes would probably only be vulnerable
    > to state-sponsored attacks

    Hmmm .. the USS Cole was put out of commission by a couple of guys in a rubber raft what drove directly into the side of the Ship in a harbor in Yemen. Whoever was involved in this attacked only needed some explosives, a rubber raft and some guys willing to commit suicide. Is this your example of "state sponsored" terrorism?

    Assuming that a submerged nuclear facility existed, how would one keep it secure from individuals who:

    1) approach using scuba equipment and underwater vehicles carrying sleds full of explosives?

    2) Homegrown torpedoes?

    3) Bombs dropped from boats that motor over the area?

    4) Bombs dropped from airplanes that fly over the area?

    5) Boats full of explosives that are sunk on top of the nuclear facility and sink to the bottom to explode on impact?


    It didn't take much more than two dollar box cutters for the 9/11 for the men who hijacked the aircraft to destroy the World Trade Center (two towers). Maybe this was "state sponsored terrorism", but it was easily executed by people carrying little more than a passport, a plane ticket and a will to die.

    > All of the possible problems with nukes need to be put
    > into the context of the possible horrors of global warming

    Gobblydegook!



    Posted by Greg, a resident of Southgate
    on Nov 29, 2007 at 6:36 pm

    Recycled,

    The answer to all of your questions is an exclusion zone, with detection equipment on the submersed nuke. If it makes you feel better, then keep a destroyer or navy jets within hailing distance to eliminate any viable threats. BTW, if the USS Cole was a submarine, it would not have been hit.

    Frankly, there is much more to worry about, when one considers a shutoff of foreign oil. It happened twice before. Last time it was long lines for gasoline. Next time it will be major riots in the cities and economic chaos...very ripe for an attack from Al Queda or N. Korea or China, etc.


    Posted by Recycled-Water-Is-OK, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Nov 29, 2007 at 8:15 pm

    > The answer to all of your questions is an exclusion zone,
    > with detection equipment on the submersed nuke. I

    Exclusions zones that "monitor" but not "exclude" are useless. As pointed out in the previous posting, it would be very difficult to protect against all of these possible points of attack.

    > If it makes you feel better, then keep a destroyer
    > or navy jets within hailing distance to eliminate
    > any viable threats.

    Huh? First we started with "inexpensive nuclear power". Then, we submerged the facility and added a habitat zone for the crew to live. How, we've added an "exclusion zone" which will doubtless add additional cost -- not to mention the "destroyer" and fighter wing to patrol the "exclusion zone". This idea no longer sounds cheap.

    > BTW, if the USS Cole was a submarine, it would not have been hit.

    The USS Cole was in the Yemen port of Aden for refueling. Thanks to the incompetence of President Bill Clinton, the "blue water navy" was downsized considerably during his presidency. Consequently, Congress refused to fund a Navy request for a number "Oilers" (refueling ships) that allowed destroyers like the Cole to remain at sea for refueling.

    The State Department instructed the Navy not to allow the "deck watch" to carry loaded weapons, so when the rubber raft carrying the explosives was spotted by the deck crew, all they could do was shout at the raft--which wasn't enough to stop it from hitting the side of the ship and exploding.

    Nuclear submarines do not need petroleum-based fuel for their engines. Nuclear submaries are refueled by going into dry dock and having their reactors dismantled so that the old cores can be removed and new cores emplaced. This is never done at sea, or in a strange port. Nuclear Submarines do make "port calls", however, for Rest & Relaxation (R&R) for the crews, Public Relations for the Navy, and sometimes cross-training with other nation's navies. Submarines always tie up at a dock, just like a destroyer would. A Nuclear submarine would have been hit at/about the same place that the Cole was hit (at the waterline) if it had been in port instead of the Cole.


    Posted by JustWondering, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
    on Nov 29, 2007 at 10:09 pm

    Greg,

    Just wondering - is there anything you don't think couldn't be solved with nuclear power? Poverty, hunger, acne?


    Posted by Greg, a resident of Southgate
    on Nov 30, 2007 at 8:51 am

    Wondering,

    Nuclear power provides the base load electricity, at a reasonable price, to help drive an economy that might solve poverty, hunger and acne. Reliance on solar/wind/conservation, without nuclear, will increase all three, especially acne, as stressed out poor people worry about their next meal.

    It should not be either/or. It should be BOTH nuclear and solar/wind. Why are you so relcutant to accept the reality that nuclear is essential to our economic and security future?


    Posted by ACoalReality, a resident of Midtown
    on Nov 30, 2007 at 10:15 am

    Greg:
    "Why are you so relcutant to accept the reality that nuclear is essential to our economic and security future?"

    Nuclear may be relatively cheap to operate once built, but it's an absolute bear in up-front costs - and how do you quantify the cost when that inevitable accident occurs one day and a wide swath of land is posted "Do Not Enter For The Next 200 Years"?

    And as for security - yes in these days of terrorism, do you really want more nuke material floating around?

    Forget nuclear - "base load" electricity will continue to come from coal - the challenge is to make it clean, including capturing or otherwise mitigating the CO2 emissions.



    Posted by Greg, a resident of Southgate
    on Nov 30, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    ACoal,

    "Nuclear may be relatively cheap to operate once built, but it's an absolute bear in up-front costs - and how do you quantify the cost when that inevitable accident occurs one day and a wide swath of land is posted "Do Not Enter For The Next 200 Years"?"

    Why do you make such alarmist assertions? There is no need for there EVER to be a Chernobyl type of accident in the USA. Bad Soviet designs and no containment building is not the way we do things here. Three Mile Island was a safety success, not a failure. At some point, there needs to be some rationality accepted by the anti-nuke forces.

    You talk about "clean coal" and CO2 sequestration. It is an unproven technology. Germany is trying this approach, but even if successful, sequestration sites will fill up in a few decades. What then? Coal is dirty (and radioactive), and is very dangerous to the miners. To assert that it can be cleaned up is only that - an assertion.

    Nuclear power is, indeed, front loaded with capital costs, although much of that is imposed by litigation that is not necessary. Once built, though, nukes are relatively low cost, because their fuel is so cheap and inexhaustible (and not subject to foreign control...The U.S. has plenty of it). Reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, along with breeder reactors, will expand that fuel, and significantly reduce the amount of 'waste'.

    Security is always an issue, but why do so many only focus on nukes? It is much more dangerous, in a post-9/11 world to live near or work in a skyscraper than a nuclear power plant. Real world terrorist know that an attack on a power grid, at certain critical points, is much more effective (and possible) than attacking a nuke.

    It is time to get over the 'China Syndrome' scare tactics, and move forward with the cleanest and greenest of available power sources, nuclear power.


    Posted by Spreck Rosekrans, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Dec 19, 2007 at 8:46 pm

    The article's premise includes a historical falsehood. There was plenty of water in San Francisco's reservoirs when the devastating earthquake and fire occurred in 1906. They could not fight the fire because pipes had broken.

    Certainly, the catastrophe did engender sympathy for San Francisco and ultimately encourage Congress to allow construction of a dam in Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park. Two years later, Congress passed the National Park Service Act, in large part to ensure that America's most protected lands were never againb so desecrated.

    Today, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir has comparatively little to do with water supply. Do the math. With eight other system reservoirs, including Don Pedro downstream that holds six times the capacity, Hetch Hetchy matters little to regional water supply.

    Let's develop a plan to restore the valley while maintaining a reliable suppuly of high quality Tuolumne River water to our communities.


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