Almanac

Viewpoint - April 2, 2014

Editorial: Golf course water well still a bad idea

In the midst of a debilitating drought and just two years after Menlo Park's Environmental Quality Commission turned thumbs down on the idea, the commission once again recommended against proceeding with a proposal for the city to drill a well in a public park and pump the water up the hill to irrigate the Sharon Heights golf course.

The cost of the well and water lines would be paid by the Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club, which now buys approximately 60 million gallons of potable water from the city to water the course and for other uses at the club. Part of the club's plan would be to provide water from the new line to also irrigate Nealon, Jack Lyle, and Sharon parks, as well as La Entrada School. The proposal says that it would reduce the city's draw of Hetch Hetchy water by 13 million gallons a year and save about $68,000 a year. Jack Lyle Park and Nealon Park top the list of potential sites for the well; in Jack Lyle, unlike Nealon, no permit would be required to drill a well.

But beyond the city's savings is the question of how much the private Sharon Heights club would save and whether city residents would support the plan in light of the drought. Other questions are whether gray water could be used for irrigation, a practice that has more and more appeal as Hetch Hetchy and other sources are pushed to their limit in this ultra-dry year. So far, no progress has been reported on the city's effort to establish a gray-water recovery program.

Another factor that stands in the way of any deal to drill a well is the staunch opposition of Nealon Park neighbors, who in a letter last fall asked the city to "shut down this project once and for all." The neighbors point out that a conditional use permit is required for a project like a well that would benefit a private party. In addition, neighbors are concerned about depleting natural resources (the water in the aquifer).

"Not one drop of water is saved," said Elizabeth Houck, who often speaks out on issues affecting the Nealon Park neighborhood.

Despite these misgivings, city staff appears to believe that taking water from the aquifer is a reasonable proposition. A staff report suggests that as the Bay Area's population grows there will be more and more pressure on the Hetch Hetchy water supply, making a good case for the city to use the aquifer to provide 60 million gallons of water per year to Sharon Heights Country Club for its golf course. An analysis of the aquifer's capacity done for the city in 2005 shows its annual recharge rate or inflow ranges from 1.3 billion to 2.6 billion gallons per year, depending on rainfall. The estimated local use is considerably less — 358 million gallons per year, including municipal use, private wells and Stanford University. And the report estimates the $4 million cost of the well and associated pipelines would be covered entirely by the country club, while the well would provide water to the three parks and La Entrada School. The staff estimates the pipeline would save the city 13 million gallons of Hetch Hetchy water per year.

At this point, there is no formal proposal for the well set to come before the Parks and Recreation Commission or the City Council. Our opinion on this project has not changed since 2011, when we said we were concerned about droughts and that it is hardly prudent to believe that Hetch Hetchy will meet all the Bay Area's needs forever. At some point we may need to pump water from the aquifer just to meet local needs. But if we begin pumping now just to water a private golf course, the water might not be there when the Hetch Hetchy supply begins to run low, and the city really needs it.

Comments

Posted by Elizabeth, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 1, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Water is a very complicated issue. Residents, not just around Nealon Park, had been asking Staff to shut down the "project' for four years. Four years. Four years of staff time spent, four years our tax dollars paid for this 'non-project' for a private country club. We were misled, we were circumnavigated. However, the worse thing was the Staff's ignoring residents, rather than advocating for them. Rather than stepping up and saying this project needs to be killed based on XYZ, Staff pushed on. Sad.


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