It's not clear why East Palo Alto's water allocation is only 1.96 million gallons per day (MGD) while neighboring cities' per-capita allotment is so much greater — although the fact that it's a low-wealth, high-minority community might explain such an injustice. But what is clear is that Mountain View has been paying the SFPUC for water that it hasn't used because the agency hits cities with a minimum purchase requirement.
According to city records, Mountain View, which is allocated nearly 13.5 MGD and has a minimum purchase requirement of 8.93 MGD, paid the SFPUC nearly half a million dollars from 2010 to 2012 for water it didn't use. As residents and the city continued to reduce water usage after that time in response to the drought, the state agency waived the minimum purchase charge. But now that water-supply conditions have improved, the minimum charge will be resumed beginning in July. The city estimates that over the next four years, that reinstated charge will cost the public about $8.5 million.
But what about the city's future water needs? With Mountain View's transfer to East Palo Alto of rights to 1.0 MGD, will there be enough water in the decades ahead to support the significant new development now being built and that is anticipated in the city's general plan and other land use policies? While there are no certainties in life, the city's analysis indicates we'll do just fine with a 12.5 MGD water allotment. The city has made a priority of water conservation in recent years, and that includes the development of recycled water programs and requirements for dual-plumbing in new structures that will allow the use of non-drinkable water for toilets, cooling systems and other uses.
The council carefully considered the city's future water needs when it agreed to transfer 1.0 MGD of water to East Palo Alto for a one-time charge of $5 million. And it took a sensible step in reducing the city's water costs over the next four or more years, and a responsible step in coming to the aid of a disadvantaged neighbor — one that has been indefensibly shortchanged by the area's chief water provider and that understandably desires, in the words of its mayor, Larry Moody, to "become a community that's pursuing our hopes and dreams."
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