News

Palo Alto looks to expand 'drought-free' water supply

City Council to consider bringing recycled water to Stanford Research Park

As California's water woes continue to stress local trees and inflate water rates, Palo Alto officials are preparing to move ahead with a $35 million project that would significantly increase the city's supply of "drought-proof" water.

The City Council on Monday will consider approving an Environmental Impact Report for a major expansion of the city's recycled-water system -- a project that would bring recycled water to south Palo Alto and the Stanford Research Park. If the council OKs the project, as recommended by city staff and the Utilities Advisory Commission, the city would pursue grant funds for a program that officials hope could transform how water is viewed. The vision calls for greater differentiation between types of water, with potable water generally reserved for drinking and recycled water used for things like landscaping, toilet flushing and processing.

This project would be the second major expansion of a system that has been in place since the early 1980s, when recycled water began to flow to the Shoreline Golf Links in Mountain View. The delivery system was later expanded to the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course, Greer Park and the areas around the Regional Water Quality Control Plant in the Baylands. Later proposals to expand the system were not pursued after city officials deemed them too expensive.

Now, with the drought stretching through its fourth year, city officials believe the time is right to pursue with the expansion. Karin North, watershed protection manager with the Public Works Department, noted that the city now has four different companies trucking recycled water to customers.

"There's a whole new industry that's been coming because of the drought," North said at the Sept. 2 meeting. "We did not, a few months ago, have four recycled-water haulers essentially selling our recycled water to customers."

In the new phase, pipelines would run past Mitchell Park, delivering recycled water there, and into Stanford Research Park, home of large corporate campuses with lush lawns. A staff report from Public Works notes that this area was chosen because it is "the largest concentration of customers with irrigation needs" in the city.

The project has drawn some concerns from Stanford University, which owns the park, and from groups such as Canopy, which urged the city to make sure that the salinity levels in the recycled water don't have a negative effect on local trees. To address these concerns, the city has committed in the environmental report to monitor salinity on a monthly basis and, if needed, undertake one or more strategies to reduce the saline level. The proposed strategies include exempting redwood trees from recycled water; blending recycled water with other water that has lower salinity; and treating the water.

The project has received strong support from the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which has its own long-term plans for purifying wastewater so that it's potable. Gary Kremen, chair of the water district's board of directors, noted that the district has some money that could be used for this project, including funds from Proposition 1, a $7.5 billion bond that California voters approved last year for water projects. Hossein Ashktorab, manager of the Recycled Water Unit at the Santa Clara Valley Water District, also spoke in glowing terms about Palo Alto's latest effort to replace potable water with recycled water where suitable.

"It's really water for the future," Ashktorab said. "Recycled water is drought-proof and it's going to be locally controlled so we don't have to import it from anywhere."

Palo Alto is by no means the only city that is taking a closer look at improving and expanding use of recycled water. Mountain View, one of Palo Alto's partners in the Regional Water Quality Control Plant, has expressed an interest in analyzing the prospect of treating and blending recycled water to improve quality, according to the Public Works report. And Sunnyvale is now upgrading its wastewater-treatment plant so that treated water can be used for its groundwater-recharge operations, according to staff.

In Palo Alto, Phil Bobel, assistant director at Public Works, told the utilities commission that the city will probably eventually "have a bunch of different kinds of water, and we're going to match that water with the need."

"Everyone will sort of have to go with the flow here and utilize the water that is correct for their need," Bobel said.

The Utilities Advisory Commission had few qualms about moving the project along. In its Sept. 2 discussion, all five participating members supported the staff recommendation. Commissioner Judith Schwartz said she very much likes the idea of a "targeted system," which she called "the wave of the future." Commissioner James Cook agreed.

"With water costs going up ... and our preference to use our beautiful Hetch Hetchy water for drinking, I'm all for going with the staff's recommendation on this," Cook said.

Comments

19 people like this
Posted by WateringCorporateLawns
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 25, 2015 at 11:16 am

Hmmm...
"... delivering recycled water there, and into Stanford Research Park, home of large corporate campuses with lush lawns."

Residential customers are being encouraged to let lawns die to save water.
WHY AREN'T THOSE CORPORATE "LUSH LAWNS" BEING SACRIFICED TOO?
CUT OFF THEIR WATER, DON'T PROVIDE MORE WATER.


22 people like this
Posted by Nancy Lowe
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 25, 2015 at 11:32 am

What about reclaiming the immense about of water that pours in torrrents out from the storm drains into the bay?

It makes one weep to see it, even before the drought.

SWALES - deep trenches - catch and absorb water, keeping it from running off the top of baked clay soil. They have used swales in Davis - trapping and containing enough water to replenish trees for decades.


2 people like this
Posted by Commentator
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 25, 2015 at 11:36 am

The outcome, intended or not, will be to kill the corporate landscaping with the salts in the sewer water. Controversy gone.


15 people like this
Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 25, 2015 at 2:22 pm

Why aren't we using "dewatering" water for our public land? There is a dewatering construction site at the corner of Newell and Parkinson - directly across from the Main Rinconada Library, the Art Center AND Riconada Park. We should be using those gallons of water on to irrigate those sites.


7 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 25, 2015 at 3:07 pm

"Why aren't we using "dewatering" water for our public land? There is a dewatering construction site at the corner of Newell and Parkinson - directly across from the Main Rinconada Library, the Art Center AND Riconada Park. We should be using those gallons of water on to irrigate those sites."

How about it, "Raindance"?


1 person likes this
Posted by longtime resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2015 at 7:34 am

Why would south Palo Alto residents be the only beneficiaries of this recycled water? How safe is this water -- really!


3 people like this
Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 26, 2015 at 9:37 am

Chris Zaharias is a registered user.

Curmudgeon - the problem with filling our trucks with water from these dewatering projects is that it takes ~45 minutes to fill one 2000-gallon truck, vs 4 minutes at the PA H20 Treatment Plant. Margins for a business that's trucking water and then deploying it to homes manually are challenging, and that increased fill time would make the business highly unprofitable.

Chris Zaharias, Co-Founder Rain Dance Now


1 person likes this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 26, 2015 at 12:46 pm

Roger that, Chris. Appreciate the education.


5 people like this
Posted by Jim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 26, 2015 at 3:29 pm

Back in ancient times (the 50's) the Stanford industrial park had two major conditions. One was the industries must be clean - no steel mills etc. The second was landscaping was required including lawns. The intention was to not have the area tuned into South San Francisco. The goal was to keep Palo Alto looking like a residential community with a few manufacturing plants that would not interfere with the residential look of the city.


4 people like this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 27, 2015 at 10:53 am

SteveU is a registered user.

The Truck fill time can be reduced to almost the same as the PAWQP by installing one of those elevated tanks you can see near big road projects. The purpose is a slow fill (not to out-pump your water source), fast transfer.

Besides unsightly looks (Decorate?), the pump must lift water an additional 20 feet (Stronger pump needed or quite a bit lower flow)

We need to find more ways to DO, not reasons to NOT DO.


2 people like this
Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 28, 2015 at 9:59 am

Chris Zaharias is a registered user.

SteveU - I agree 100%, and I expect most homeowners undertaking these projects would be happy to cover the cost of such a tank system, at which point RainDance and others like us would I'm sure be *very happy* to use that water source, for several reasons:

1) it's what customers want;
2) it keeps us off congested roads like University and Embarcadero;
3) the water is ~1/3 less saline than PA H20 plant water;

I'm sure city officials are reading this and will consider what could be done to make this a requirement of future dewatering projects.


4 people like this
Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2015 at 6:34 pm

Stanford needs to get their act together too!
I have an evening class at Stanford which got out really late last night (after 10), and was SHOCKED at the amount of landscape water which they use at night. Some lawns appear to have below drip systems which are just flooding huge areas in front of numerous buildings. It was an obscene waster of water. And newer cooling systems leaking hundreds of gallons of water all over the place/
It makes me sick, and I am going to report them to facilities management.


1 person likes this
Posted by longtime resident
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2015 at 4:47 pm

In the second comment above, the suggestion to trap water flowing to the bay was brought up.
How could that work and still be sure that enough water would be flowing into the bay to protect the bayland habitat?

Also I'm still curious why only part of Palo Alto - the southern part - is being suggested for the use of recycled water? And, how safe is it? Does anyone know about this?


1 person likes this
Posted by WaterSaver
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 1, 2015 at 9:53 pm

Why wouldn't they run these pipes up Matadero Creek? This would be fast to install, wouldn't tear up roads, and goes straight past Hoover park to the Stanford Research park. No digging roads = cheap and fast!

You can keep going to Bol park, VA, and Gunn High School. Lot's of potential users near our creeks.

In fact, this may save enough cost that you could run pipes back along all our creeks - Adobe, Barron...


6 people like this
Posted by SF Mann
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 4, 2015 at 1:15 pm

Restore Hetch Hetchy Valley. Store the water at New Don Pedro Reservoir, it is downstream from Hetch Hetchy, it is much bigger, and it is never full. Do your part to save our environment.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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