Almanac

News - April 2, 2014

Commission: 'Just say no' for now to golf club well

by Sandy Brundage

In the two years since it first considered the idea of allowing a private club to tap an aquifer in a public park, Menlo Park's environmental quality commissioners have not changed their opinion of the proposal: Not now.

"We essentially reinforced our original recommendation but added the need to develop criteria for any water resource management issue in the city, and that this particular project shouldn't proceed further until all the points we raised were met," said Commissioner Chris DeCardy, summarizing the conclusions reached during a March 26 meeting where the proposal was revisited.

The Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club wants to drill a well that would draw water from a public aquifer to irrigate 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 currently pulls 100 percent of its supply from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir.

The Environmental Quality Commission in 2012 unanimously recommended against going ahead with any specific proposals regarding ground water use until the city created a plan for using Menlo Park's graywater and clarified long-term groundwater rights with the county — neither of which has been done. The Parks and Recreation Commission also expressed concerns about the potential public-private partnership.

Despite the reservations, what benefits could the well provide for the city? According to city staff, the well could save Menlo Park about $68,000 a year by also irrigating 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. In addition, the club would pay to build and operate the well; construction alone is estimated at $4 million.

"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.

The residents belonging to "Nealon Neighbors" don't see any benefit at all, and have asked Menlo Park to abandon the project.

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. Another possible site on the short list — Jack Lyle Park — wouldn't require a permit, but still leaves other concerns.

Members also question whether the plan really reduces water use in the first place, or merely transfers the source.

Nealon Neighbors organizer Elizabeth Houck commented in an email to the city after the March 26 meeting that she applauded the commission's decision "to protect a precious natural resource as well as Open space and Conservation District and City Parks by your strongly worded recommendation to the Menlo Park City Council to cease all work on the potential well project and MOU with the private Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club."

Residents had felt ignored or dismissed when speaking against the proposal before, she said.

Ms. Houck said she hoped staff would explore drilling smaller wells that would water only the parks as an alternative to drawing upon the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, and put any money saved toward conservation incentives and water-rights oversight.

The City Council will make the final decision on whether to pursue the golf club partnership.

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