By Sandy Brundage
Two years after the idea first came before Menlo Park's environmental quality commissioners, the panel will review a proposal to allow a private club to drill an irrigation well in a city park on Wednesday, March 26.
The Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club wants to build the well to draw from a public aquifer to water its golf course. The club now uses more than 60 million gallons of potable water per year, purchased from the Menlo Park Municipal Water District. The district in turn pulls all of its supply from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir.
Menlo Park may find the idea appealing because, according to city staff, the well could also irrigate Nealon, Jack Lyle, and Sharon parks, along with La Entrada School, thereby reducing the city's demand for Hetch Hetchy water by 13 million gallons a year and saving approximately $68,000 a year. In addition, the club has offered to pay for construction of the well, with an estimated price of $4 million, as well as for ongoing operations and maintenance costs.
"As the state continues to experience growth, more pressure may be placed on the Hetch Hetchy water system, and by using a diverse portfolio of water sources, the city can alleviate regional pressure while still securing adequate water supplies for residents and businesses," staff wrote in its report to the commission.
But residents belonging to a group called "Nealon Neighbors" don't see any appeal at all. In a letter sent last fall, the group asked the city to "shut down this project once and for all." While the well clearly benefits the country club, they said, how does it help the public?
The group fears the depletion of a natural resource, and opposes the potential construction of a well in Nealon Park, which does not allow private uses without conditional permits. Members also question whether the plan really reduces water use in the first place, or merely transfers the source.
"Not one drop of water is saved," said Nealon Neighbors organizer Elizabeth Houck.
Both the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Environmental Quality Commission have expressed reservations in the past about the potential public-private partnership.
In 2012, environmental quality commissioners unanimously recommended not going forward with any specific proposals regarding ground water use, including cost, siting, and other considerations, until developing a plan for using the city's graywater, and clarifying long-term groundwater rights with the county.
As of now, the graywater plan and water rights issues remain unresolved. San Mateo County issues permits to drill wells, but maintains no oversight of regional groundwater management beyond that.
Ultimately the decision lies in the hands of the City Council, which will make the final call on whether to pursue the golf club partnership.
The Environmental Quality Commission meeting on March 26 starts at 6:30 p.m. in the council conference room, located in the Civic Center at 701 Laurel St.
Go to tinyurl.com/lemguj2 to review the agenda and associated staff reports.