East Palo Alto is continuing with plans to develop the Gloria Way Well, despite a recent estimate that it will start pumping at only 30-40% of its 300 gallon per minute (GPM) maximum capacity.
Even with this limited pumping capacity, Gloria Way Well remains a critical component in the city's goal of developing its own water management system.
East Palo Alto currently gets its water from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. American Water Services Company manages the distribution, operation, and maintenance of the city’s water supply.
While the city is guaranteed 2,199 acre-feet of water, the 2010 Urban Water Management Plan showed a current demand of 2,200 acre-feet. The city has no water storage as a buffer against unusual demand, drought restrictions, or interrupted water service. It also doesn’t have enough water to support growth.
“I think there is a direct correlation between solidifying our water issues and the potential development partners that are out there, and we really can’t engage one without the other” said Vice Mayor Larry Moody.
The Gloria Way Well, which is located in East Palo Alto at the intersection of Gloria Way and Bay Road, was finished in 1979, but doesn’t currently produce potable water. The decision to move forward with the construction of the well is primarily based on East Palo Alto’s pressing need for water, the cost savings of local water, and the advanced stage of the project.
“We are so close, because it is basically approved, and we are done with the environmental, and very close to finalizing the design, ” said Public Works Director and City Engineer Kamal Fallaha. “We are letting the council know that we are proceeding with the project, but we didn’t want to proceed without you knowing the significant change in the yield.”
Use of the well was discontinued in the early 1980s over complaints about the water’s “esthetic” qualities, including a bad smell. The current project includes plans for a treatment facility to address this issue. Construction could begin as early as December of 2016, and completion of the project is anticipated in 2017.
The lowered estimate of the pumping capacity of the Gloria Way Well comes after testing to see what the underground water source can sustain. Pumping too much groundwater can have severe consequences including pulling salt water into the groundwater aquifers, tainting the groundwater.
Another serious consequence of pumping too much groundwater is called subsidence. When too much water is pumped out of the ground the land can compact and settle, causing the land level to sink. From the early 1900s through the 1960s, Bay Area municipalities relied on groundwater, and during that time parts of San Jose and Santa Clara dropped by more than eight feet, according to the United States Geologic Survey. East Palo Alto dropped at least two to three feet. The process of subsidence does not reverse when the usage of groundwater is discontinued; the land may never return to its former level.
East Palo Alto is also planning to build a new well known as the Pad D Well, located at Clark Ave and East Bayshore Road. A test well has shown that this site might support water usage rates of 350-500 GPM. The water quality of the sample indicated that it might not need groundwater treatment. The city does not yet know how much the Pad D project will cost, but the city will need to secure additional funding to complete the project. The Pad D Well project is targeting 2017 to start construction.
Joshua Hoyt, the author of this article can be reached at email@example.com.