Oakland groundwater


I’ve been taking National Ground Water Awareness Week to think a little more than usual about groundwater. My KQED Quest blog post yesterday, on Bay area groundwater, mainly focused on the South Bay. Oakland’s not a big groundwater town.

The rancheros and early Anglo settlers here all dug wells, of course. As I understand it, Dunsmuir House still has an operating well, the Pardee Home has a water tower that suggests the presence of a well, and some of the other old properties must have them too. Some long-standing Oakland industries probably have wells, and maybe the golf courses too. I don’t know a lot about it.

But municipal water service from Oakland’s earliest days exploited local surface water, starting with Temescal Creek and ending with San Leandro Creek (see the two dams post). Lion Creek supplied laundries in the area near Mills College once called Laundry Canyon. Today we’re all served by East Bay MUD with clean Sierra runoff from the Mokelumne River watershed. In Oakland, surface water rules.

Today groundwater is off the radar here. Sure, we have to clean it up where old gas-station tanks used to leak—this monitoring well is from one of those. It seems to me that the aquifer west of Chabot Dam, in the alluvial fan crossed by San Leandro Creek in far East Oakland, must have good potential, and so would Fruitvale and Temescal. San Francisco is opening up its formerly used aquifers to serve emergency purposes; we ought to look into that too. Why go to such expense to clean up the groundwater and not get some sustainable use out of it at the same time?

23 Responses to “Oakland groundwater”

  1. Naomi Schiff Says:

    The best use might be for irrigation, so it would soak back in and recharge the aquifer. Maybe not so good for people to get into the home water-treatment business, though. We have had a lot of contaminants flow into the water over the years and some people using large amounts of uncalibrated pesticides.


    This evil landlord, however, is way out of line!

  2. Mary Says:

    In the Fremont area (and Hayward south, really) groundwater was badly depleted and they had to deal with salt water incursion. EBRPD’s quarry lakes help replenish it.

    I have a serious thing about old water towers — especially those with windmills attached, or even just barrels — around here. I’d give a lot to have one to fix up, and the money to do it.

  3. @cbdawson Says:

    Interesting post! The key question is sustainable. What standards is RWQCB holding local cleanups to? If the water isn’t designated as having drinking as a beneficial use, it may not be remediated to drinking water MCLs. Saltwater intrusion would be another issue. Sustainability would have to address quantity and quality long-term.

  4. Dennis Evanosky Says:

    The Pardee home at 11th and Castro does have a well. Ironically, George Pardee was one of the moving forces behind EBMUD, but still used his well water.

    There’s another well I’m aware of in the hills above Horseshoe Creek. I understand it still supplies water to at least one home on McDonell Road.

  5. Naomi Schiff Says:

    Schilling Garden, next to Snow Park, has a well. Historically, though not used in recent times, there was a well at Peralta Hacienda.

  6. len raphael Says:

    a couple of years ago Steven Lavoie, a librarian at the Oakland History Room was very helpful sending me this link:

    >> Oakland History Room:
    >> Groundwater study and water supply history of the East Bay Plain,
    >> Alameda and Contra Costa counties, CA / for the Friends of the San
    >> Francisco Estuary ; by S. Figuers and online at:
    >> http://www.swrcb.ca.gov/rwqcb2/groundwaterstudy.shtml

    The document referred to a survey of all the wells in Oakland but I couldn’t find that document.

    Let me know if anyone finds it.

    My impression is that the aquafier at it’s best was not up to supplying Oakland as of sometime in the late 1800’s even though well drillling advanced to where some of the Oakland commercial wells were several thousand feet? deep.

    btw, a well driller who has drilled in Oakland, told me that the wells he did in the upper hills yielded excellent quality and delivery, but were quite expensive because of the cost of drilling thru the fractured rock.

    Another person I know who drilled above 580 in East O had excellent quality and quantity.

    In the North Oakland area below Telegraph, there are several working wells. Only one person is said to have had the water tested, and it didn’t sound like I’d even want to irrigate with it.


  7. Andrew Says:

    Thanks, Len, Naomi and Dennis. I went looking for that groundwater study and have an inquiry in to the webmaster. As so often happens, the website was reconfigured without anyone bothering to redirect the old URLs, a sign of first-order incompetence somewhere in the management chain.

  8. gem s Says:

    I think this may be the study here, but the figure that shows historic wells
    (figure 2) doesn’t show in google docs:


    Someone with MS office may be able to download the original and see the images. In google docs, click the link on the top left that says “file”.

    I once was at an open house on 55th street that had a well in the backyard. I wasn’t able to find out if it was operational.

  9. Arleen Feng Says:

    It turns out the parent directory is accessible, fortunately easiy to find the actual filename of the Figuers report: http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/sanfranciscobay/water_issues/available_documents/figuers.pdf

    The history is absolutely fascinating, a real labor of love. Gov Pardee knew what he was doing to enable EBMUD and the Sierra supply came just in the nick of time.

  10. Andrew Says:

    Thanks, Arleen. That report is wonderful.

  11. Jeff Says:

    Great article on KQED Quest blog post. A couple of things to be aware of. San Francisco is looking to develop local groundwater for a small part of its regular supply, to diversify its water supply sources. This is in addition to use of large-capacity supply wells in an emergency.

    Also, EMBUD has a groundwater banking (store surplus surface water during wet years, recover during dry years) project in the East Bay Plain aquifer (San Lorenzo area).

  12. Andrew Says:

    I see EBMUD’s page about the Bayside Groundwater Project here. Thanks for pointing it out.

  13. Anthony Says:

    In Fremont, the ACWD was too vigorous with the groundwater recharge, and the owners of the Patterson Ranch land (which is still open space, and was farmed until recently) sued the ACWD for raising the groundwater table too high. I remember seeing *very* shallow groundwater there in 2000; including artesian conditions at one CPT hole.

  14. Lisa Says:

    We’re very interested in drilling a well in our yard in East Oakland. Our water table is very high. If you know of any friendly well diggers and traditional stone masons, send ’em our way, please.

  15. Naomi Schiff Says:

    A caution: If you are anywhere near or downhill from the old GE plant at 5441 International Blvd., check with Dept. of Toxic Substances Control first: there is a big toxic remediation program in the offing, and there may be water quality problems.

  16. Lisa Says:

    To clarify: we want to use this well to water garden plants. We’re in the flats, off of High Street.

  17. Naomi Schiff Says:

    Good, likely far enough away! Good luck!

  18. Elliott Aldrich Says:

    My neighbor on 42nd near Webster in Temescal has a well. Non functioning but the mechanicals and a little cover shed are still there.

  19. David Hull Says:

    Len Rafael–Has the “survey of all the wells in Oakland” turned up?

  20. Arleen Feng Says:

    David Hull–I’m not sure which “survey” Len meant but the URL i gave above is still good for the Figuers report–its bibliography lists the location and call number of most of the references (many in UC Berkeley libraries). Note that this was a *history* and most of the wells mentioned (hundreds) have probably not been looked for in decades. Recent well info may not be public-access, see http://www.acgov.org/pwa/programs/well/data.htm
    Data from a limited set of monitoring wells is at http://www.water.ca.gov/waterdatalibrary/

  21. Jeff Rule (@jeffwrule) Says:

    I am interested in a new well in oakland hills above the zoo area. Looking to use it for domestic and plant watering. We are not intending to hook up to EBMUD at all. The costs for attaching to the current water system have really gone beyond reasonable. $35K or more. ALAMEDA COUNTY PUBLIC WORKS AGENCY is telling me they have no problem issuing the permit to drill as long as I get the OK from EBMUD and the city. City I can understand as part of building permit process. However, I can not find any rules or legislation that points to who to talk to at EBMUD or why I need to talk to them at all for drilling a private well on private property. Comments?

  22. Arleen Feng Says:

    Jeff Rule: Maybe because EBMUD considers the East Bay Plain aquifer as part of its groundwater storage back-up for the imported water, so they want to know your well won’t affect the supply or potential contamination. For sites In the hills they may not care so much. Try the contact at http://www.ebmud.com/about-us/construction-my-neighborhood/south-east-bay-plain-basin-groundwater-management/

  23. Anthony Says:

    Jeff Rule – EBMUD does the sewage treatment, and it’s possible that they want to be sure that your well won’t bring up anything they don’t want to process.

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