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In The News

New water strategy pursued for Cargill
Officials say ‘transfer’ proposal needs more vetting

By Shaun Bishop

The Daily News, 12/17/09

The developer behind a proposal to build a mini-city on the Cargill salt flats in Redwood City appears to be shifting its strategy for overcoming a major hurdle — how to provide enough drinking water for the project.

DMB Redwood City Saltworks— the joint venture between DMB Associates and Cargill — revealed Wednesday it has purchased the rights to a “substantial amount of highly reliable potable water” at an undisclosed location that could supply the project on the 1,436-acre Cargillowned site, which calls for up to 12,000 homes and 1 million square feet of office space.

Water supply is one of the major questions dogging the application for the controversial project, which is undergoing a preliminary review by a team of consultants for the city to determine whether it adequately addresses water needs and other issues.

A memo from Redwood City Saltworks dated Dec. 11 asks the city to amend its application so that a “water-transfer- and-exchange” strategy is the primary method of providing water for the project.

Previously, the developer had proposed using groundwater from the salt flats as the main source of water, said Redwood City Senior Planner Blake Lyon. The developer estimates it will need about 1,200 acre-feet of potable water per year once the site is built out.

According to the memo, Redwood City Saltworks would “transfer” some of its “highly reliable new source of surface water” to San Francisco Public Utilities Commission contractors. The commission manages the Hetch Hetchy water system that supplies water to 1.6 million Bay Area residents, including those in Redwood City.

The contractors would use the developer’s water supply “in lieu of a specified amount of SFPUC water that would then be delivered to Redwood City,” according to the memo.

City Manager Peter Ingram said it's possible such an arrangement could result in Redwood City getting additional water "credits" from Hetch Hetchy that would supply the salt flats site. But he noted that the city has to do more research to figure out if such a deal is plausible or possible.

"Of course, the big question is, 'That's all well and good on paper, but how does that physically deliver water to where you need it?' " Ingram said.

Critics have long questioned where the project would get its water in addition to other concerns about traffic and its location near the Bay at a time of rising sea levels. Environmental groups have said the entire site should be restored to wetlands.

Saltworks officials released a statement Wednesday touting their ability to provide enough drinking water to support the project, which also includes new parks and wetlands restoration. The developer has proposed using recycled water and gray water for non-potable needs like irrigation.

"The fact that a developer owns water and is willing to provide water, I think, is innovative and different," spokesman Jay Reed said.

Reed said Redwood City Saltworks' supply could provide several times the amount of water the project will need, so the developer may be able to funnel extra water to the city.

But Reed would not comment on the specifics of the new strategy or on where its supply of potable water is located, saying those details would come out in the city's environmental review process.

Water supply is a crucial issue in Redwood City, which routinely exceeds its annual allotment from Hetch Hetchy. Officials have poured millions of dollars into a recycled water system and conservation programs in an effort to cut down on the city's consumption.

"This is one of those deal breakers," Ingram said of the water supply issue. "I suspect that's why they're paying a lot of attention to this."

 

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