Water-parched East Palo Alto came another step closer to receiving an additional 1-million-gallons-per-day after the City Council on Tuesday approved accepting water from the City of Mountain View.
Council members unanimously approved the water transfer for a one-time payment of $5 million, city officials announced on Wednesday. The transfer would permanently increase East Palo Alto's water supply and decrease that of Mountain View out of San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) allocations from Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.
East Palo Alto instituted a new water-hookup moratorium on July 2016, which prohibits new or expanded water connections, in response to the growing drought and increasing demand from developers. The city realized it could not meet its growth goals without additional water supplies. The city's General Plan update would allow 2,519 additional residential dwellings, 333,406 square feet of retail development, 1.9 million square feet of office space and 267,987 square feet of new industrial space by the year 2040.
The proposed growth envisions increasing city population by 7,764 residents as well as additional employees, according to a June 20 staff report. But the city could not come close to meeting its goals without additional supplies. Water demands could outstrip available supplies by 2020, according to the General Plan Environmental Impact Report.
City officials said the water shortage has halted badly needed affordable housing and additional commercial development. East Palo Alto relies solely on the (SFPUC) for potable water, which is shared with 25 other Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency members, including municipalities. East Palo Alto receives the lowest portion of water allocations of any BAWSCA shareholder under the 2009 water supply agreement, which provides for a perpetual 184 million gallons per day to member agencies.
Although the city is one of the lowest gross-per-capita users of water in the Bay Area and the state, it exceeded its 1.963 million gallons per day annual Individual Supply Guarantee in 2003, 2007, 2007 and 2012. The city has used 92 percent of its water allocation for the past 15 years, according to the June 20 staff report. A recent water supply assessment found the city needs up to an additional 1.5 million gallons per day to support the General Plan Update goals.
Funding for the $5 million water transfer would come from a number of sources: three developers, The Sobrato Organization, 2020 Bay Road and The Primary School, which have pending commercial projects will pay $1.53 million, based on their projects' pro rata share of their estimated water demand. Other funding would come from: The East Palo Alto General Fund, $470,000; The Sobrato Organization reimbursement agreement, $1 million; a Silicon Valley Community Foundation gift from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative for the water transfer ($2 million); and for affordable housing in East Palo Alto ($500,000).
City leaders lauded the agreement.
"This is a great step forward, a critical milestone towards achieving the goals of the city's General Plan. Water is a fundamental necessity for a growing city, and we thank our community partners for working with us to raise the necessary funds to bring this transaction to fruition," Mayor Larry J. Moody said in an announcement.
The SFPUC still must agree to the water transfer, city officials said. If approved, the water moratorium would be lifted in late November after the city council adopts a water-capacity charge to recover the costs of the water-transfer transaction.
The City of Palo Alto is also considering transferring up to 1 million gallons per day from its allocations to East Palo Alto. The Palo Alto City Council referred the issue to the Finance Committee in December. The council is expected to take up the discussion again in August after it returns from recess, the East Palo Alto staff report noted.