The Pleasanton City Council granted staff authority Tuesday to use the city's groundwater wells 5 and 6 as deemed necessary during this summer's peak water demands with the caveats that staff must test the wells every month and continue to stress the importance of water conservation locally.
The decision to reactivate two of three city-operated wells facing PFAS contamination to supplement Pleasanton's water supply removed the need to adopt a mandatory demand for 15% water conservation for the council majority, with the city instead to focus on encouraging voluntary cutbacks among residents and businesses.
"We are going to hit the conservation message as hard as we can over the coming months to make sure that folks know that we are doing our very best to create less stress on our water infrastructure during this period of time," City Manager Gerry Beaudin said during Tuesday's regular meeting.
"But ... if we can't get there, then we would use the wells. We would start with Well 5 -- if we can't take the pressure off the system with that, we would move to Well 6," Beaudin said.
The 4-1 vote, with Vice Mayor Jack Balch being the lone dissenter, came after a lengthy discussion that night about Pleasanton's battle to address PFAS chemicals found in the two aforementioned wells along with Well 8. PFAS, otherwise known as forever chemicals, were first found in Well 8 back in 2019, which is when the city shut down the well.
According to the staff's presentation on Tuesday, Well 8 recently tested exactly at the recently enacted state response levels of PFAS chemicals that are allowed to be in city water.
While Well 8 is still on standby and cannot be brought back online due to these state response levels, staff said that the other two wells have tested below the state levels and are therefore safe to drink.
And with summer coming up, staff had decided to bring the now-adopted recommendation of using the wells 5 and 6 as backups in case the city cannot meet those summer water demands by just using the water it is currently purchasing from the Zone 7 Water Agency.
Beaudin added that the main goal is maintaining and ensuring water reliability in Pleasanton.
"We're trying to move through a period of time in our history where we're looking at all the options to ensure reliability," he said. "The wells are available to us. They provide a comparable level of water to what we're getting from our water provider. In addition to the turnouts and wells, we have reservoirs and tanks in our community, so there's belts and suspenders everywhere."
"What we're talking about here is just trying to create some clarity with the council, with the community, about all of the options that we have and how we'd like to use them going forward," Beaudin added. "We want to make sure that the water supply is there, and that it's meeting quality expectations."
Balch however, was against the whole idea of bringing any of the wells back online.
According to Balch, Well 6 has had higher PFAS response levels of the last few years and his main worry was that if the city brought that well back online, it would eventually test above the response levels, leaving the city in a position where they would have to scramble to make up for that loss.
At first he tried to compromise in using Well 5 only with the addition of bringing back a 15% water conservation mandate because he said his main problem was with Well 6.
"I'm really challenged with doing any of it, frankly," Balch said. "If I can minimize the amount of mandatory conservation from 15% to 10%, because I allow Well 5, which has been below the response level several times over that same four year period, I'm willing to try to do that. But I can't support Well 6 coming back online -- it's never tested below the response level."
Beaudin, however, pointed to the fact that the well has tested below the response level recently given the new testing requirements, which were different from the past years, and that the water is considered safe to drink.
"We've had one of the rainiest wet seasons on record. And so groundwater conditions have likely shifted," he said. "The factors have shifted. It's not just the testing methodology. It's a number of other things, including having wells turned off for a period of time."
"If we're testing monthly, and we're below the response level ... that's the quality of water that is in our system currently," he added.
Beaudin also said that the move to turn on the wells if needed during possible summer peak demands -- which staff said might or might not happen -- was not in any way a solution to addressing the city's issues with PFAS in the groundwater.
That discussion was addressed during the previous item on Tuesday's agenda where city staff updated the council on the ongoing efforts to develop a comprehensive list of alternative solutions to meet the city's 20% groundwater pumping quota that has been historically produced by the city-owned wells.
The council had originally begun looking at constructing a water treatment and rehabilitation facility, known as the "PFAS Treatment and Wells Rehabilitation Project", to treat and rehabilitate wells 5, 6 and 8 in Pleasanton and to create a new centralized treatment facility for PFAS treatment, disinfection and fluoridation.
However, the council voted to push pause on that project last September in order to evaluate other options, mainly due to a $46 million pricetag on the project.
Since then, a Water Ad Hoc Subcommittee was formed; the council established a new water supply alternatives study capital project and contracted with Brown and Caldwell -- an engineering and construction firm focused on water and environmental sectors -- so that the city has different options to address the issue at hand.
Staff presented the list of options to the council on Tuesday including pros and cons that came with each decision.
Some of the alternatives on the list include modified treatment only for Well 8; building a new well on the west part of the city outside of PFAS plume; having Zone 7 pump from the existing wells or purchasing 100% of the city's water from the agency; or constructing a joint, regional treatment facility with Zone 7.
These options came out of months of screening out various alternatives that might have not been possible or were too costly. These options that were screened out included blending water, local alternative water supplies, purchasing water from other local retailers other than Zone 7 and expansion of the non potable recycled water systems.
The next steps for staff in the water supply alternative front will be creating a detailed evaluation of benefit criteria for each of the options and determining the capital costs so that a final draft and report can be presented to the council this September.
"It looks like we are on the path to figuring out what we're going to do here," Councilmember Valerie Arkin said. "Over the next four months, we will have multiple times of getting more information as we complete the next steps so I look forward to that."