East Palo Alto’s lack of water has forced the city to freeze some of its new developments since June 2016. To combat this problem, four members of the Palo Alto City Council plan to allocate some of Palo Alto’s water to its parched neighbor.
Council members Eric Filseth, Karen Holman and Tom DuBois proposed a solution in a memo to transfer or sell a “small portion” of the city’s water to East Palo Alto. Many businesses depends on the Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System to deliver water from the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park to the Bay Area. The Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA) works in negotiations with The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s (SFPUC) to distribute the water to their customers. SFPUC first established water allocations distributing 184 million gallons of water per day (mgd) to 26 customers including both Palo Alto and East Palo Alto in 1984, a time when East Palo Alto had just been incorporated as a city. Palo Alto received 17 mgd, while East Palo received 1.96 mgd. Currently, Palo Alto is using only 10 mgd. In contrast, East Palo is using all of its water allocation putting a halt on expansion projects.
“We forecast that we will never need all 17 million gallons even in 2050 or 2060,” DuBois said. “We are potentially transferring 500,000 to 1 million gallons a day to East Palo Alto, which is a small percent of what we use.”
East Palo Alto city manager Carlos Martinez said the city is planning on expanding its own groundwater supply by bringing two wells into production, which would take several year to complete, but the city has projects ready to build immediately. Furthermore, the addition of well could potentially pump saltwater from the bay, impacting the aquifer they share with Palo Alto and Menlo Park.
“We are asking the council to consider the water allocation to East Palo we have left it really open and it is up for discussion,” DuBois said. “We just wanted to raise the issue.”
In addition, East Palo Alto city leaders have asked SFPUC for an extra 1.5 mgd and BAWSCA, which represents the 26 customers, to create ways for cities to allot any unused water to East Palo Alto and other cities in need. Additional water allocation can assist in economic equity issues. East Palo Alto has 0.23 jobs per resident, the lowest jobs-per-capita ratio in the country, and an unemployment rate twice as high as the county average. More water could allow more development of business, increasing the amount of jobs for local residents.
“There are several cities that are not using their water and I was encouraging multiple cities to participate in this water allocation but it’s difficult to get cities to coordinate,” Dubois said. “Mountain View might do it, but each city will have to work with East Palo Alto one-on-one.”
City Council members met on Dec. 5 to further discuss potential plans for water allocations.
“By allocating water, it will help the expansion of East Palo Alto which creates more affordable housing close by,” Dubois said. “They are our sister city so it’s the right thing to help out.”