Pagemill Pastures, located at 3450 Deer Creek Road, a half-mile from Interstate Highway 280, was under investigation after a city employee witnessed a water truck from the center getting water from a fire hydrant near the property early in 2022. The city sought to determine if Pagemill Pastures had accessed the water illegally and, if so, for how long and how much water had been taken. In March 2022, the city informed the equestrian center that the utilities department had no record of the center having a valid permit for hydrant use or a city-registered meter.
Pagemill Pastures, a 200-acre horse-boarding facility, leases its land from Stanford University. The investigation found that Stanford Land, Buildings & Real Estate management had requested that Pagemill Pastures use its water truck for a one-time delivery of water to another Stanford Land parcel that was using a herd of goats for vegetation management.
Pagemill owns a water tanker truck with a 3,000-gallon capacity used for supplemental water deliveries to its two horse properties, one on Deer Creek Road and the other in San Mateo County.
A tanker-truck driver who works for Pagemill in both San Mateo County and Palo Alto filled up a truck from the Palo Alto hydrant instead of the hydrant in San Mateo County, Palo Alto Utilities Director Dean Batchelor said in an email.
The only problem was that Pagemill, while it has a valid water hydrant meter issued by San Mateo County, has never had a hydrant meter issued by Palo Alto.
"Since the volume of the tanker truck is around 3,000 gallons (equivalent to about 400 hundred cubic feet or ccf), we estimate this was the volume of water used in this incident," Batchelor said.
As a result of the investigation, Pagemill will need to pay the city $34, utilities spokeswoman Catherine Elvert said.
"This inadvertent, though still illegal, access of the Palo Alto system was viewed by CPAU (City of Palo Alto Utilities) staff who correctly determined that a Palo Alto hydrant meter was not being used to measure the water to fill the truck. This is what led to the initial allegation of theft of water," Batchelor said.
"There was coverage in the press and public outcry as this was a dry, hot time of year," he said. "This was unfortunate because CPAU had not had time to fully investigate the issue."
As part of its investigation, Palo Alto Utilities monitored, graphed and evaluated the daily water consumption of Pagemill Pastures and found consistent usage for its allotted horse population over the years. Wide-scale use of non-metered water by the tanker truck would have resulted in much greater fluctuations in their use of metered water over the years, he said.
"Therefore, it appears the unmetered use of water was inadvertent and does not suggest that Pagemill Pastures was knowingly (or unknowingly) using water without paying for it. Since Pagemill Pastures is the tenant at this location and the utilities customer on record, the company will be billed for this water use to rectify the situation," Batchelor said.
Pagemill owner/manager Giselle Turchet said by phone that she had no comment on the investigation but indicated she felt vindicated by the findings.