In 2016, the city of East Palo Alto issued a moratorium on development because the city couldn’t guarantee that there would be enough water for new projects. East Palo Alto, which has been a historically low-income community, had only just been incorporated as a city the year before. Additionally, the city’s water needs were managed by a county agency that later dissolved. The tech boom of the Bay Area then created demands for housing and office space that saw East Palo Alto become a desirable place for development once again.
In order to address this issue, city officials began the hunt to find new water sources – which would result in new, groundbreaking partnerships.
East Palo Alto were always good water stewards. In 2015-16, the gross per capita water consumption in the city was 58 gallons a day, one of the lowest in the region (indeed, the state). The city doesn’t have many attractions that are big water users, such as big parks or golf courses.
Therefore, an gains made by increasing water conservation targets would be very minimal.
City officials began searching for outside partnerships. They knew that other cities in the region had more water than they needed. They hoped to find two municipalities to agree to transfer their water to East Palo Alto – something that had never been done before in the region. They eventually focused their attention on two cities: Mountain View and Palo Alto.
East Palo Alto’s partnership with Mountain View was beneficial to all.
Mountain View hadn’t used their daily allotment of water in 30 years, so they had water to spare. For a one-time fee of $5 million, Mountain View transferred 1 million gallons of their water daily to East Palo Alto. Mountain View saw an advantage in selling some of their water because they had contracts with SFPUC that stipulate purchasing a minimum of 8.9 million gallons of water per day, and the city was only using 7 million gallons a day.
East Palo Alto city officials then struck a deal with Palo Alto to collaborate on three different projects, one of which was a water transfer agreement of half a million gallons a day from Palo Alto’s own allocation of water. The other two projects were a bridge project and traffic signal synchronization. Palo Alto did not seek payment for the water transfer because the water deal was part of multiple cooperative projects between the cities.
By creating these unique and co-beneficial projects with their neighbors, the city of East Palo Alto can now move forward with the sustainable growth plans envisioned in their General Plan.