News Feature | August 2, 2018

'Groundbreaking' Partnership Carried East Palo Alto Through Drought

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

During the dry days of the California drought, one Silicon Valley city banned development because officials were unsure there would be enough water for projects.

The city issued the moratorium in July 2016, prohibiting “new or expanded water connections,” according to a city manager update.

The moratorium “effectively halted new development in the city, constraining the city’s ability to develop greatly needed affordable housing and additional commercial development,” the city manager update said.

East Palo Alto ran into water challenges even before the height of the drought. The city exceeded its supply allocations four times between 2001 and 2015, News Deeply reported.

East Palo Alto’s water difficulties were eventually mitigated by a “multiyear journey to find new water sources – a process that would end with an unprecedented partnership involving neighboring cities, wealthy developers and affordable-housing advocates,” News Deeply reported.

So, what did that journey look like? News Deeply probed that question in a recent in-depth article.

Officials considered conservation and tapping more groundwater in the search for new water sources. But those options alone did not achieve enough savings, the report stated.

What eventually came through to help East Palo Alto were water transfers from nearby cities.

Mountain View was among those cities.

“For Mountain View, the water supply picture, even in the midst of drought, was good. The city, home to Google and other tech companies, has an allocation of 13.5 million gallons a day, which they hadn’t come close to using in 30 years, according to Gregg Hosfeldt, assistant public works director for the city. During California’s recent drought, Mountain View residents cut consumption by 24 percent in two years,” the report stated.

Helping out East Palo Alto had economic benefits for Mountain View.

“Mountain View’s staff had calculated that the city was likely to pay $8.5 million over the next four years for water it wouldn’t use. So, they worked out a plan to transfer a water right of 1 million gallons a day to East Palo Alto for a one-time fee of $5 million, which would ease East Palo Alto’s water troubles and help take some of the sting out of paying for unused water,” the report stated. 

Officials called the deal a groundbreaking move.

“Nobody sells water – you just don’t do that,” said Gregg Hosfeldt, assistant public works director for Mountain View, said, per the report. “If you look historically, there is probably none of these deals to look at – we’re breaking new ground.”

Governor Jerry Brown lifted emergency conservation measures last year, signalling the end of California’s lengthy drought.

"This drought emergency is over, but the next drought could be around the corner," Brown said at the time, per The Los Angeles Times. "Conservation must remain a way of life."