Bridging troubled waters | July 24, 2009 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - July 24, 2009

Bridging troubled waters

New construction projects ensure steady water supply, but come at a price to consumers

by Gennady Sheyner

The picturesque Pulgas Water Temple towers over a turquoise pool in a leafy grove by the Santa Cruz Mountains. Composed of a stone well surrounded by 10 columns, it stands a chain-link fence away from a crew of construction workers who are replacing rusty pipes and mending deep-set cracks in a water channel that runs past the temple and toward the shimmering Crystal Springs Reservoir.

This story contains 2638 words.

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Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at


Like this comment
Posted by Brian Steen
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Jul 24, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Great article!
It brings together some complex bureaucracies and issues, proving water conservation has to become one of our highest priorities.
And using grandfather used one...never thought I might be doing the same.

Like this comment
Posted by Dan
a resident of another community
on Jul 25, 2009 at 4:20 am

We had an energy audity performed on our home back in late 2007. A side benefit (for us) was an awakening interest in home energy and clean water conservation. What were other people doing to reduce their household's consumption of elecricity, natural gas, home heating oil and clean water?

So, we began to collect their suggestions to see which ones we could use ourselves.

Web Link

To date, the above free list contains more than 500 home energy and water conservation tips, of which:

- 400+ are simple and easy to do
- 275+ cost absolutely nothing to do
- 115+ cost just a little to do
- 115+ relate to electricity usage reduction
- 80+ relate to air conditioning usage reduction
- 120+ relate to clean water usage reduction

By reducing the amount of electircity, home cooling, water heating, home heating and clean water usage, a household directly and immediately reduces its own utility bills month after month after month.

Like this comment
Posted by Need Water
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 25, 2009 at 7:24 am

It's time all watering throughout the City was done with re-cycled water. Recycled water should not be just for City parks and soccer fields, we should all be using it in our yards. In fact water shortages in the future may require us to use recycled water for all our water needs.

San Jose is building a large recycled water facility, it's time Palo Alto did the same.

Like this comment
Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 25, 2009 at 4:56 pm

According to the excellent article by Gennady Sheyner in this week's Palo Alto Alto Weekly (an article that should win him a journalism prize), the amount of water that the City of Palo Alto can use is and will be set by the San Francisco Water District. So my question is, if ABAG mandates that Palo Alto stuff more and more people into this city, everybody loses and everyone's allocation goes down - including the PAUSD and the city itself. Or the penalties will be severe. Palo Alto cannot sustain and accommodate the massive influx of new residents the is being mandated by ABAG. It is time to draw the line in the sand and say, No More. We will not have the water supply for those who already live here. How can we reduce smog and pollution if there is so much more traffic from new residents and Stanford-everything? We don't have enough grocery stores, competitive gas stations, and other services. In this coming election, every candidate MUST answer this question? How do you feel about ABAG and its mandates.

Like this comment
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 26, 2009 at 11:11 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

I have wondered about the cost-effectiveness of barrels and cisterns.

At the current water rate, a 50-gallon barrel holds $0.35 of water, so the $50 that Palo Alto pays towards installing one is equivalent to 143 refills. Given our rain patterns, I would guess that it fills 6-10 times a year (factoring in where it overflows during storms). That's a payback interval of 14-24 years.

But how much benefit is there really in delaying the application of 50 gallons of water to the ground for a few days during the rainy season? From observations of my own yard, its well over half-way though the rainy before even the top few inches of the ground have gotten moist. Wouldn't the price of the barrel be better spend on better distributing that 50 gallons directly to the open ground (itself a reservoir of kinds)?

On cisterns: I have a small house and my impervious surfaces are about 20% of the total. If I managed to collect all of that runoff (including that from the driveway) into a cistern and the rainfall that year was 20 inches (well above normal), the cistern would hold enough to put down 5 inches of water on the yard during the summer. That's a small fraction of dry season irrigation needs if you have a garden and plants that aren't dormant in the summer (Aside: a significant portion of my yard are California-natives). Again the question arises whether you wouldn't do better to use your yard as a natural water reservoir than have an artificial one. Also a cistern, whether above ground or buried, creates additional impervious surfaces, creating more runoff into the streets and creeks during larger storms.

The 50,000 gallon cistern mentioned in the article holds about $350 of water at current rates, and is a bit under 6700 cubic feet (for example 25x25x11 feet). I balk to estimate construction costs (excavating is very expensive, both the digging and the cost of disposing of the dirt).

When this program was put into place, I raised the question about its effectiveness based upon our weather pattern (the Commission didn't have any numbers, per standard Palo Alto practice). The winning argument was that Cambridge (Massachusetts) had such a program, so Palo Alto needed one to keep up. I argued (vainly) that Cambridge had rain throughout the summer, so holding some of it for days _might_ make sense.

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

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