Atherton's City Council voted unanimously on May 3 to move ahead with a $13.6 million grant-funded project to capture runoff water on its way to the Bay to prevent flooding and remove pollutants, but warned the town could pull out if it appears the future maintenance and repair costs of the facility are too high.
The town had to move quickly to sign an agreement with the California Department of Transportation, which is managing the federal funding. The town will work with the Las Lomitas School District, which would install the facility on the Las Lomitas School site at 299 Alameda de las Pulgas in Atherton.
The grant does not require funding from the town, but does require it maintain and repair the facility once completed. The purpose of the grant funding is to combat water pollution, but the facility will also be designed to avert flooding.
Town engineer Marty Hanneman said the technology for the system is brand new, but several similar systems are about to be completed in Southern California. The "water capture facility" will be designed to send storm water and dry season runoff into underground chambers at the Las Lomitas School after removing pollutants and trash that would otherwise flow into the Bay. The underground chambers are to hold up to 7-acre-feet of water -- close to 2.3 million gallons -- that can then be slowly released to percolate into the water table or head to the San Francisco Bay via the Atherton Channel.
City Councilman Rick DeGolia said recent news about pollutants killing fish living in the Bay shows the need for such facilities. He and other council members said they want to know more the technology involved, and what liability and costs the town will have once it's finished. However, he said, "I don't think we have to answer that today."
"It's an honor for Atherton to be able to participate in this," Mr. DeGolia said.
One of the issues the town will further investigate is whether the three other jurisdictions with runoff that ends up in the area -- Menlo Park, Woodside, and Stanford University -- will be willing to share in any ongoing costs.
The town hopes construction will begin in the spring of 2018 and be done by the summer of 2019.