Policy and Services Committee endorses new rules intended to reduce groundwater waste

Thank you to all who wrote letters, showed up and spoke up for reducing groundwater waste for construction purposes at the Policy and Services Committee on Dec.14th.  Thanks to your support and advocacy, together we changed the game!

It’s clear that the Policy and Services Committee and City Staff now understand that wasting water is the issue, and that it’s not acceptable politically.  Or morally.  Or for any city that thinks of itself as sustainable.  There’s a clear consensus on the direction – the challenge is to figure out the best and fastest way to get to the goal in a cost-effective manner – and for an ordinance to become enacted. Next, Staff will prepare recommendations and bring to the full Council for approval, most likely 3/7/ 2017, but this date may change.  

One of the highlights of the many presentations to the Policy and Services Committee was this 2-minute animated video   made by Cate A, a precocious 8-year old in 3rd grade.  The message is powerful – please share with your friends.


We’re far from victory, Continue reading

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What Are Your Reasons?

We’ve been asked why we oppose dewatering. These are some of our reasons:

1. There are better ways to build basements that dramatically reduce the amount of water wasted.

2. Water Scarcity/Water Security

  • We’re in a drought.
  • We have a growing population.
  • Other cities (East Palo Alto, San Jose, etc.) are asking for a greater allocation from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, our common supplier.
  • The Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan calls for 40% of unimpaired water flow from February to June.  Personally, we support this Plan which will result in healthier rivers and ecosystems but it will mean a lower water allocation for all.
  • “Groundwater is really our savings account: it’s the last resort, it’s what we have to use when there’s no precipitation” J. Koseff, Ph. D., Director of Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

dying river

3. Environment

  • Dewatering is an environmentally unsound practice – it reduces recharge to streams, rivers, wetlands and the deeper aquifer, it contributes to sea level rise, etc.
  • Groundwater supports our buildings and infrastructure and is a hedge against salt water intrusion and subsidence.
  • Contrary to current conventional wisdom, the shallow and deeper aquifers are connected (San Mateo County Groundwater Plan Meeting, 2016).

4. Safety

  • The deeper aquifer is the source of our emergency water supply.
  • The Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD) needs to keep importing (scarce and ever more expensive) water to recharge our aquifer.  Recharging our aquifer avoids overdrafting and subsidence as happened in the 1960s.
  • With climate change and sea level rise, groundwater levels will rise also.  This study concludes that underground construction in which the current groundwater level is 4m [13 feet] or less will get flooded.  “We’re building tomorrow’s risk today”.

5. Community Resource

  • Groundwater is a community resource – less than 1% of groundwater pumped for basement construction comes from the property being dewatered, the rest comes from neighboring properties.
  • Residents want to know why they should conserve water when they see water gushing down the drains.
  • Dewatering does not adhere to the “Lead by example” and “designate a guardian of the future” principles in Palo Alto’s Sustainability/Climate Action Plan.
  • This groundwater is the birthright of our children and all residents, present and future.

These are some of our reasons – you may have others to share with our elected officials. Please send letters to city.council@cityofpaloalto.org. For sample letters check out item 4 in our How to Get Involved page.

Thank you for caring about Palo Alto’s groundwater.


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Join Us Dec.14th, City Hall at 6 pm

Dear Supporters,

Many of you have expressed frustration and/or outrage at all the water gushing out of construction pipes into our storm drains, especially when trees are dying and we’re in a drought.

Palo Alto’s Policy and Services Committee will discuss dewatering regulations on Wednesday, Dec. 14th, 6pm at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto. We need you and your children, friends and neighbors, to attend and show your support for better managing our groundwater, a finite community resource. We need to protect this water for long-term emergencies (extreme drought, main water pipeline failure, etc.) and for our children, grandchildren and all Palo Alto residents, present and future.


With your support, we are making progress; however, Staff’s proposal needs to be considerably strengthened in order to make meaningful reductions in the amount of groundwater pumped and dumped. City Staff’s proposal is available here.

Come join us and make your voice heard! Tell your neighbors! If you live in Palo Alto and need transportation to attend this meeting or if you have questions, please contact us at info@SavePaloAltosGroundwater.org. If you are absolutely unable to attend the Dec. 14th Policy and Services Committee meeting, please email the City Council at citycouncil@cityofpaloalto.org and make your views known. Not much will change unless together we make it happen.

We appreciate your support and look forward to seeing you at 6 pm on Dec. 14th at City Hall.

Save Palo Alto’s Groundwater!

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The Millenium Tower Building in San Francisco is sinking – could it happen to us?

Recently we heard, “Could massive dewatering in San Francisco be causing the Millennium Tower to sink and tilt?  If that’s part of the problem why isn’t it a problem here?”  After all, Palo Alto has quite a bit of dewatering going on.


It has happened to us:  When Palo Alto was founded in 1894, 100% of its water supply was groundwater.  Because of  groundwater overdraft, Palo Alto subsided 2 – 4 feet in the 1960s.

But, there are two reasons why subsidence stopped:  Palo Alto started getting 100% of its potable water from the Hetch Hetchy and the Santa Clara Valley Water District (the groundwater under our feet is part of the Santa Clara Water Basin) imports water to recharge the Basin.  In 2015 it imported 54,000 acre feet for groundwater recharge of the Basin (not only Palo Alto).  Paid for, of course, with taxpayers’ money.

We are throwing away that water and then buying water to recharge the aquifer.  We don’t have area wide subsidence as in the 1960s because of water recharge but there’s a financial and environmental cost.  Environmental?  Among other impacts, we have a net transfer of water from the earth to the sea.  That groundwater that ends up in the Bay contributes to sea level rise.

So why is dewatering permitted?  We have heard several arguments for dewatering – our responses are in bold:

  1. People have a right to do with their property as they wish. Yes, people have a right to do with their property as they wish as long as it’s their property and doesn’t adversely impact others.  Groundwater, however, is a community resource. On average, less than 0.2% of the groundwater that is pumped for basement construction comes from the site being dewatered, the rest comes from neighboring properties.  People next to dewatering sites have reported impacts such as uneven floors and cracked foundations and windows.
  2. This water would flow into the Bay anyway. Not necessarily.  The shallow groundwater pumped out during dewatering, normally recharges and is recharged by our creeks, streams, wetlands and the deeper aquifer. Removing  groundwater from the ground disturbs this balance and can cause among other problems, local settling, subsidence and sinkholes.  Reducing the freshwater flow through the soils increases salt water intrusion.
  3. Shallow groundwater, where dewatering occurs, is “nuisance” water and has no connection with the deeper aquifer which is the designated source of our emergency groundwater.  For many years conventional wisdom has been that in Palo Alto the shallow and deeper aquifer levels are separated by a confining layer from around El Camino Real to the Bay.   A recent study of the data from hundreds of wells by the consulting firm,  Todd Groundwater, found that such confining layer does not exist as a solid unbroken “floor”.   Instead, there are many smaller aquitards throughout the area. The bottom line is that the shallow and the deeper aquifers levels are connected – indeed is it water from the shallow aquifer that recharges the deeper aquifer levels.  Thus there is no valid reason not to value ALL our groundwater.

Fortunately, the City seems to be moving in the right direction and we expect City Staff will propose better rules for construction in areas with high water tables this December (or maybe late November) to City Council.  We must remain vigilant that the proposals are effective in reducing water waste and are enforceable.  We request that you keep writing to City Council with your concerns so that they are aware that this issue is of importance to residents.  Thank you for your support and advocacy!

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New petition on underground construction methods and locations

By popular demand, we are circulating an updated petition to send to City Council.

Save Palo Alto’s Groundwater is not opposed to basements or underground construction per se, but rather to the harmful and wasteful practice of dewatering. We also request the City to address other major issues regarding underground construction, including basements, as summarized in our petition.

You can:
a) sign electronically or
b) print a hard copy , circulate among neighbors and either mail or deliver to Save Palo Alto’s Groundwater, 2225 Webster Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94301, or                                              c) scan and e-mail to info@savepaloaltosgroundwater.org, or
d) Sign (or deliver) the petition at Midtown’s Ice Cream Social on September 18th, 1 – 4 pm, Hoover Park, where Save Palo Alto’s Groundwater will have a table.  Stop by and say hello!

Ice Cream Social

And, here’s another great opportunity to make your views known: Palo Alto’s Comprehensive Plan Land Use Subcommittee will meet at 270 Forest at 1 pm this Thursday, Sept. 8th. The issue of basements and dewatering will be discussed. This meeting is open to the public and individuals may address the subcommittee for up to 3 minutes at the beginning of the meeting.  If you cannot attend please send comments to Elena Lee,  Elena.Lee@CityofPaloAlto.org, and ask her to forward your comments to the Land Use Subcommittee members.

Thanks for caring about our community resource, groundwater.

Read more for the text of the petition.

Continue reading

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