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Basement groundwater pumping raises concerns

Original post made on Nov 19, 2010

Day-in, day-out from April through October, residents of Old Palo Alto have noticed the incessant pumping of water -- estimated at up to 13 million gallons taken from one property alone. ==B Related stories:==
■ [Web Link Citizens voice concern over extracted groundwater]

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, November 19, 2010, 1:30 PM

Comments (27)

Posted by FormerPAresident
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 19, 2010 at 7:51 pm

The City should require testing of any water discharged to the storm drain system. Why would they not?

Posted by Jody
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 20, 2010 at 3:35 am

The California Regional Water Quality Board (Toxics Division) released their five year report on 9/30/2010. Here is the link to the full report.
Web Link

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2010 at 8:54 am

I'd almost respect those of you with the courage to admit, "I'm jealous that other people can have things I don't have, like full basements." I don't know how many people would agree with you, but at least we'd know where you stand.

What no one respects is the fake outrage. "I'm shocked, just shocked at the horrible waste of water." @FormerPAresident do you also want to test everyone’s irrigation and car wash runoff water? 10 gallons per week of runoff per household is over 10 million gallons per year Citywide. Why would you not?

Posted by Janny
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 20, 2010 at 11:39 am

After the Loma Prieta earthquake my house felt like it was a ship on an ocean. You could feel the water swishing back and forth under my house for many hours, and water came up through cracks in the concrete due to liquefaction. I live in south Palo Alto; there are many such plumes of water under the entire city.

All the people who keep wanting to put HSR in a tunnel or trench don't realize how impossible that is with so many plumes of water moving from the hills to the Bay under our City.

Rather than pay huge water bills it may pay you to dig a well!!

Posted by Sarah
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 21, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Thank you for finally covering this important topic.

Posted by Does not add up....
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 22, 2010 at 7:55 am

I thought there were recent rules passed to have permeable driveways and not have too much concrete - since that reduces rain-water reaching the water table.

How come we don't care when we suck all this water out and send it to the bay.


Posted by Not a good idea
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2010 at 9:06 am

Palo Alto is built over marshland at the edge of the Bay. With plumes of water flowing underground from the hills to the bay; if you pump out water to build a full basement, more water will continue to flow from high to low so that water will be quickly replaced.

I suppose they plan to build very expensive waterproof basements - good luck!! Forget about the full basement, make it a crawl space for your electrical wiring, water pipes and sewage.

Posted by Peter K. Mueller
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 22, 2010 at 11:15 am

Yeah, in accordance with some of the other commentators, it would be great to consider ways to use the problem ground water to supplement our limited water resources. May be the writers of the forgoing comprehensive and clearly presented article could compose another one addressing the factors involved in use.

Posted by Steve
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 22, 2010 at 11:33 am

The City of Palo Alto Construction Dewatering System Policy states, “Dewatering is only allowed from April through October.”

Web Link

Yet today, November 22, 2010, high volume dewatering continues at 2021 Webster Street in clear violation of City policy.

Video at Web Link

When will the City stop this waste?

Posted by SuperD
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 22, 2010 at 11:40 am

Why does the city continue to allow new home builders to put in basements? I understand that home builders want to extra space, but water tables raise and fall over time. Odds are pretty good that water will seep in at some point in time and you'll have a very expensive swimming pool!

Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 22, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Wow !! I had no idea this sort of thing was going on. Thanks, Steve, for the video. I've seen such piping of water from time-to-time and thought .. what a waste. We desperately need new ways of collecting water. Could this water not be used for landscaping? Could there not be some way to contain the water for later usage? I think Californians need to look at cisterns to catch rainfall as well. Water concerns will be one of Rich Gordon's interests in the Assembly.

Posted by Frank
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 22, 2010 at 1:18 pm

>We desperately need new ways of collecting water. Could this water not be used for landscaping?

The issue is economic - fresh water is way too cheap to make collecting this and trucking it somewhere cost effective.

There was some construction like this near my parents house and several large trees died. Some came back the next year and some had to be removed.

If the ground water is that high your basement will be wet eventually. You can seal it for a while but eventually the water will win.

Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 22, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Pumping out the water table is a great way to tweak the neighbors. The resulting local ground subsidence will crack their foundations to pieces.

Posted by Bryant St neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 22, 2010 at 8:45 pm

In fact, subsidence has occurred in this neighborhood. A far more serious issue actually.

Posted by Another Engineer
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 23, 2010 at 5:16 am

I live in Midtown on the other side of Oregon Expressway near Old Palo Alto. We also have had many homes construct basements. These construction sites excavate right up to the property line and drill powerful wellpoints along the perimeter of the properties. I have seen many homes dewater at a high rate for longer than six months. I have seen trees die years later. A neighbor of mine felt that his home began leaning towards one of these newer homes a few years later. My feeling is that this is happening due to the compressibility of our clay soils. When the water table is intentionally lowered with wellpoints during construction, this creates a situation of desiccation of the clay soils, which can cause damage to homes in the area since dewatering causes loss of buoyancy support in the soil.

On the other side (In Old Palo Alto), there was a home which was discharging 100,000/day at a time when we were in our third or fourth year of drought. This home had a sign outside proclaiming it to be "Green". I felt that this was a bit hypocritical when our state was in severe drought, where I had let my yard die back, and asked my family to cut their water use.

I feel that something must be done about this. Basements should not be allowed to be built in areas which require the property to be dewatered. Most homes in the Bay Area do not have basements for a good reason. I feel sorry for people who have been duped into this. The basement walls will eventually fail from the hydrostatic pressure. Additionally, I would not want to live near a home with a basement.

Posted by Jenny
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 23, 2010 at 7:08 am

The water table under my house is only 4 feet down. A neighbor built a house with a sunken master bedroom. The bedroom and bathroom get flooded every rainy season.

The homeowners filed a law suite against the contractor who built the house for not informing them that the water table was so high, I don't know who won the law suite. However, another neighbor had to drill down to find out where the water table was before they were allowed to build.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 23, 2010 at 8:30 am

Using common sense, if you need to pump for months to keep a hole in the ground dry, perhaps there should not be a hole in the ground?

Posted by Charlie
a resident of another community
on Nov 23, 2010 at 8:51 am

Who said: "DO NO EVIL"!!!

Posted by Stan
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 23, 2010 at 2:35 pm

I guess somebody should tell the city and PAMF to evacuate their buildings (underground garages)

Posted by william
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 1, 2010 at 7:52 pm

What about all the homes that have pumped out groundwater that are near this contaminated plume?

Looking at the link of the map, there have been many homes which have pumped out groundwater all around this contaminated plume. I have seen groundwater pumping in College Terrace, and both sides of Oregon close to contaminated areas. Not sure about Barron Park.

Looking at the map, the plume has crossed Alma into neighborhoods, and is under many residential areas. Is it safe to eat fruit on trees in these areas?

This excavation and groundwater pumping have been going on for MANY years, but seems to be increasing.
I have seen them dig right up to the property line to put in these basements on really small lots. One person was afraid his rental home and kids would fall into the pit since only an old chain link fence was between his home and the hole.

Who is monitoring these excavations and making sure these toxic substances have not been pulled under our homes?

Posted by Michael
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 1, 2010 at 10:22 pm

In many cases, contractors excavate right up to the property line and then come back to adjust the setbacks, making it look as if they are obeying the setback laws. Many excavations fail to shore up excavation sites. Here is an example of an excavation outline where you can clearly see the area for the small cut for the ingress on the property line.

Web Link

This construction site pumped out groundwater for more than 6 months at an extremely high rate, about 70,000 gallons of water everyday. This was done during our 2007 drought. I cannot understand the logic of this. While my neighbors and I were sparingly watering our yards, this builder "vacuumed" out massive amounts of water from this site and dumped it into a storm drain. Ridiculous! Furthermore, the builder and the city never responded to complaints of subsidence and damage to adjacent structures. Incredible!

Posted by william
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 4, 2010 at 9:04 am

I have an organic garden with mature fruit trees. My home is pretty close to this chemical mess, and some foolish people did pumped out groundwater to put in a basement on their small lot.

Is there a place where I can send soil and water samples?

If anyone knows, please let me know.

We eat the organic fruits and vegetables that we grow, and give the rest away to friends.

I never realized that this groundwater problem existed!

Posted by Isaac Achler
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 5, 2010 at 2:31 am

We should be concerned about the TREES who's livelihood depends on the groundwater, that is pumped out (for basement construction). Drying up the water underneath their roots will destroy the trees in neighborhoods located far away from the basement's property !!!
Furthermore, why waste the millions of gallons of pumped water into the drainage, instead of using it for future irrigation of trees and lawns (and save the precious Hetch Hetchy water).

Posted by Old Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 7, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Thanks to the Weekly for doing such a great article.

The reason the city workers, city council and city planners don't give a fig about this problem is money.

This is big business and big money for Palo Alto.

The City makes a fortune with permits and keeps city workers happily employed. Go to the permit office and see how busy it is with people wanting to tear down/pump basements. I was there one day and this guy comes in and says "I want to tear down this house, can I do it". The city planner says "sure, no problem".

So, they don't care about plumes, basements that mess up neighbor's homes, killing trees, or the quality of our wonderful neighborhood.

I hate to be a "Debbie Downer" but until people that care about this issue get on the planning commission and city council we will continue to see basement pumping.

...the only other hope is getting the EPA involved?

P.S. - the house on 2021 Webster Street is still pumping water today. I thought this was not permitted after October. The other trick it to get "exceptions" to city codes...just pay the city and you can break the codes/rules.

Posted by Chris
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 7, 2010 at 8:48 pm

After the 1998 flood in Crescent Park, people built homes with basements that needed to pumped out groundwater. All of the homes pumped out groundwater longer than 6 months. Our neighbors wondered why the city would permit this since the area flooded. Building regulations require homes to be raised above the flood level now, yet people deliberately ... and with the full blessing of our city agencies ... build basements in our acquifers. Where is the sense in that?

What about salt water intrusion into the groundwater which provides water for the mature city trees in our area?

There are two known plumes (contaminated ground water) in Palo Alto: one under and in the area of the JCC and the other in the Research Park. Drawdown wells in those area may accelerate migration of the contaminants into residential areas. Needs serious study before any more groundwater pumping is allowed.

Posted by Steve
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 6, 2011 at 10:46 am

The madness continues. A contractor began drilling well points for another dewatering operation on 585 N. California Ave today. An extremely large Baker tank is already on the property. They must be expecting significant water volumes. Given the history of a nearby property on Webster, they will indeed draw down a very active shallow aquifer which is supporting several very old and beautiful redwood trees on neighboring properties.


Posted by vladrad
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 14, 2012 at 4:44 am

We all should do this! And water problem will be gone. Just build more basements!

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