Almanac

News - August 24, 2011

Menlo briefs: Tapping well water to irrigate golf course?

• Community meeting set for Wednesday.

by Sandy Brundage

The Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club would like to keep its greens well-watered; Menlo Park would like to help, it seems. The city has called a community meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 24, to discuss the club's proposal to build a groundwater irrigation well in Nealon Park.

According to city staff, using the well's non-potable water to irrigate the golf course, and schools and parks next to the pipeline, could save about 60 million gallons of potable water a year.

The park, located at 800 Middle Ave., has its share of neighbors who are less than thrilled with the plan. In a letter to city officials, Elizabeth Houck challenged the city's assertion that the well could save water, saying only the source of irrigation would change, not the amount. Tapping a public aquifer to service a private club runs the risk of depleting local drought reserves for the benefit of only a few, she wrote.

JoAnne Wilkes, who lives next to the park, questioned whether the plan even conforms to regulations governing the use of open space districts such as Nealon Park.

Former mayor and environmental advocate Steve Schmidt added his comments to the chorus of concern. "The fundamental question lies in the wisdom of drilling for ground water anywhere and at any time and especially if the driving force behind this idea is to irrigate a golf course," he said. "I presume there would be extensive testing of the ground water affected by this well and the potential impacts on the aquifer underlying Menlo Park."

The Aug. 24 meeting will be held at the Arrillaga Family Recreation Center at 700 Alma St. in the Civic Center.

Council to weigh Walgreens appeal

Beer and wine are on the menu for the next meeting of Menlo Park's City Council. Walgreens has appealed the Planning Commission's 4-3 denial of a permit to sell beer and wine at its Santa Cruz Avenue store.

Daniel Beltramo of Beltramo's Fine Wines and Spirits submitted the single letter opposing the appeal, arguing that Menlo Park already has more than its quota of alcohol outlets.

Meanwhile, Walgreens representatives contend that the zoning along downtown Santa Cruz Avenue allows alcohol sales without creating exceptions based on business type, and that there's no empirical evidence supporting opposition statements that the sales would be detrimental to community welfare.

The council will also receive an update on negotiations with employee unions, and select a recruitment firm to find a replacement for now-Interim City Manager Glen Rojas.

The meeting starts on Tuesday, Aug. 23, at 7 p.m. in the council chambers in the Civic Center at 701 Laurel St.

Comments

Posted by financeguy, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 23, 2011 at 5:35 pm

I must have missed the part where you analyzed how much this private country club is going to pay the city for water. (Alternatively, I guess the golfers could form a union, and then Menlo Park would give them free clubs to use during their well-funded retirements. Or perhaps a Sharon Heights membership was part of the city retirement packages...?)


Posted by John Muir, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 24, 2011 at 11:30 am

This has to be one of the nuttiest proposals to come down the pike, surpassing even the vaunted High Speed Rail in terms of its potential LOCAL impact on all and sundry. How much water is this? If you had a tank with the footprint of the Stanford football field, it would have to be roughly as high as it is wide, that is about 55 yards high, to hold the water. That's impressive, and that's what they are seeking to remove from underground. That water holds a lot of stuff up on the surface of the ground, in addition to sustaining the trees.

Here are some things to think about:

Central Menlo is full of mature trees. Many have lived long enough to put their roots into the water below them, and have thrived. Lowering the water table will stress them quickly, and they may never recover. In this time of Sudden Oak Death and the like, their ability to respond to the challenges they face will be diminished.

Subsidence, the dreaded "S" word. Removal of this volume of water may well affect properties throughout the city. Who will be first? Probably those with basements, but it won't stop there. How about CalTrain? Unpredictable track subsidence will cost a lot of money, and substantially increase the likelihood of derailments. Just what we need.

Salt water intrusion? That's where saltwater from the Bay comes back in under the land where fresh water has been removed, with unpredictable consequences. Can hydrology models predict this? Experts will say yes, no doubt.

Aquifer recharge. Where does the water come from that they want to take? Will it come back next year? Will it come back in a dry year? Who decides how much water can be taken during any given year? Your elected representatives? Some guy in a Country Club bar? Inquiring minds want to know.

The water will be "free" to the users; will they seek to resell it? After all, it's a sweet deal for them. A brand new water concession, in a place where water isn't easy to come by. Any problems will not be in their neighborhood. And the city? They're just along for the ride.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 24, 2011 at 1:30 pm

It seems the Almanac has removed the original article and comments on this topic. Also the redone article is not on the home page where it should be to inform the public of an important public meeting tonight on this water issue. I'd like the Almanac to tell us why - advertising, a board member who's a member of the country club?

Sharon Heights Golf & Country Club - from their limited website -

"Coupled with its ELITE MEMBERSHIP the club has maintained traditions for service and facility excellence that have enabled Sharon Heights to achieve their position as a Platinum Club of America, one of the top 100 club communities in the United States!"

We already recently let the ELITE cut down numerous trees for their country club and gold course. Now the clowns in city hall want to let them water the place with our aquifer, sending the huge quantities of chemical fertilizer the course uses back into that same aquifer. Also it would be prudent to save our local aquifer for our future emergency needs rather than send tens of millions of gallons a year to a private ELITE golf club.

How many of those ELITE members are residents of the City of Menlo Park? I suspect the majority are Atherton, Woodside and Portola Valley rather than Menlo Park, so let them get the water from their home towns. If they don't want use their after for their golf course club then they irrigate it with champagne. I'm sure there's plenty available in the club house.

The club's year ending 3/2010 income was $10.8 million (including $7 million in membership dues and assessments)and depreciated assets were listed at $27 million (actual fair market value of the facilities and land is millions above that figure). For some strange reason country clubs qualify as charitable organizations. Here's the web link to their most recent tax return Web Link

The club is quite capable of paying the full rate for water as they spent $176,000 on flower services paid to the general manager's wife's flower business. All this easily available on the publicly available tax return.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Bob. When we send out the Express email, we move some stories into the "Around Town" category, and this removes them from the home page. After Express goes out, we return these stories to the home page. There are two threads on this topic. That's because some people are commenting on the online archived story from our print edition, and others are commenting on the story under Local News on our home page.


Posted by Glory, a resident of another community
on Aug 24, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Why not do something other than think about those who "unwind" on the courses which are lovely for those who can afford memberships in the more elitist clubs?
Shouldn't we, who have money, during what could be the final days of the rest of the country, be a little more humble and think of things to do for those who are not as fortunate to have a problem to keep the greens so beautiful with ANY kind of water?
Water IS our most valuable human resource in order for all of us to share and it is becoming more polluted daily as politicians argue as to the reality of global warming and the pollution of our supplies which is approaching undrinkable proportions?
Let us not have to honor those who will be affected by the thoughtlessness of doing more with our most important resources and get our heads out of (our "clouds")? This is an immoral topic which is going to come back a bite those who cannot take European trips whilst the unemployment level rises and our property taxes do not affect the super rich like me? I do not go to Europe except to continue on to Africa. I have not seen my flat for more than one day in seven years.
Water is being discussed in posh neighborhoods in London far more than it is here, and it never does mention golf greens.


Posted by kiwipainter, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 25, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Not even a suggestion of using gray water before resorting to pillaging our precious aquifer. We desert dwellers may yet want to drink that prcious stuff one day, when the Hetch Hetchy runs dry. Who wants/needs monocultures (with their intense use of toxic pollutants, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides etc.... and fossil fuels.) like a golf course in this day and age!! Destructive initiative. Wake up before you end up drinking their by-product. Certainly our children will!


Posted by Ralphie, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 25, 2011 at 1:37 pm

While not wishing to accuse anyone of bad faith, the slides from last night's presentation of this project pretty much make it appear that city staff is wholeheartedly on board, and that the "proposal" nature of the investigation is merely a cover for a full recommendation to the City Council to proceed in November.

A genuine presentation of this as a speculative project, which it most assuredly is at this stage, would have provided a lot of detailed information regarding the aquifer and the financial aspects. From the question period, it's not at all clear whether this information is in hand, hidden, or not collected at all.

It was very clear that the substantive issues in this matter are troublesome, and it's difficult to know what laws really apply. None of this was presented, while those in the audience made several substantial suggestions that would serve the city's purposes without the intrusion this massively disruptive undertaking will produce.

Roxie's right; city resources should be focused on city matters, which this is not.

Although I'm sure there is no evil intent, the Almanac has two separate discussions going on this same topic. For those interested, you must monitor both to see the full depth of community opinion. Fragmentation of the public voice is not a useful thing.


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