Almanac

News - August 27, 2014

Neighbors protest water waste at Corte Madera School

by Barbara Wood

Portola Valley residents who live near Corte Madera School have become increasingly upset this summer as water continues to run down nearby streets from the school grounds, but school officials say they are doing their best to solve the problem.

As local residents change their habits, and their landscaping, to deal with the reality of a state-wide drought, tempers can sometimes flare if water appears to be being wasted.

That's what happened in Portola Valley this summer, when residents who live near Corte Madera School noticed the same thing they say they've noticed in years past — water running down Alpine Road from the school's playing fields.

Lisa Gonzales, superintendent of the Portola Valley School District, said the district has tried everything to figure out why the water continues to run.

Ms. Gonzales, who was hired by the district in July 2013, said the district has taken some actions: It has plugged at least one leak in the Corte Madera irrigation system, changed the frequency of mowing so the grass can absorb more moisture, reduced the watering by a third, started watering for shorter periods of time, and tried to figure out which storm drains and culverts aren't working as they should.

In addition, she said, the district has talked to the town of Portola Valley, to four different contractors and to neighbors about the problems.

But neighbors say that as late as Aug. 17, water was still running off the school grounds and sprinklers were running in the heat of the day, instead of in early morning as water officials recommend.

"On Saturday (Aug. 16) water was pouring at noon and 6 p.m.," said neighbor Angela Hey, who posted video and photos online.

Another neighbor said on the same day, eight sprinklers were watering the field as the outside temperature reached 80 degrees, with "water pouring down Alpine Road ... this is not a leak."

Superintendent Gonzales said the district still has a few things left to try, including digging up blacktop and digging under buildings to try to find leaks or broken pipes.

Dawn Smithson, local manager at the California Water Company, said the company has been working with the school district to help resolve the problem.

The second item on the company's list of "unauthorized uses" is "use of water that results in flooding or run-off in gutters or streets." However, Ms. Smithson said, for the time being, Cal Water does not have any penalties for those who waste water.

"At this time, Cal Water is in a 'voluntary conservation' mode," she said. "We are doing our best to reach the required 20 percent conservation through educating our customers; we are enforcing through education. So far this seems to be effective."

Go to tinyurl.com/water822 to see Cal Water's restrictions on water use.

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