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Neighborhood Alert: Water Service Interruption

Original post made by joel henner on Nov 16, 2013

Dear Neighbor: I wish to inform you of a situation affecting our home that could possibly affect your home as well. As of yesterday morning (Friday, November 15) we do not have normal municipal water service to our house, and this problem is not going to begin to be rectified until midday next Tuesday (96 hours). In the meanwhile water to our house is being supplied via a garden hose connected to our next-door neighbors' water spigot. This situation is the direct result of actions the water department took today, and you should all be aware of this. Here is what happened:

A city crew showed up at our home unannounced at 8AM this morning (Friday) and told us that they needed to perform a routine maintenance of our water supply, specifically, replacement of our water meter. We did not request this, nor were we given any advance notice of this work. The crew told us it would take a few minutes to disconnect our water supply, swap in a new water meter, and reconnect our supply. In the process of making the swap, the supply line connector broke and the crew was unable to fix it. I was told that in order to complete the task they would need to dig up the street and make a new connection to the street main. However as this requires notification of other utility suppliers there is a legally binding minimum of 48 hours necessary before they can begin to do any street digging. The 48 hours does not include the weekend. Therefore work on restoring our normal municipal water service will not begin until at least noon next Tuesday, which is 48 hours from noon Friday (excluding Saturday and Sunday). It is not clear at this point how long the service reconnection work will actually take once the project starts.

Needless to say, I am flabbergasted at this sequence of events. I have spoken with the water department supervisor as well as the utility community service liaison. While they are sympathetic, there appears to be little that can be done to resolve this situation more quickly. In the meanwhile we are experiencing sub-standard water pressure. I assume our neighbor's home is affected by lower pressure as well, since we are both sharing the same supply feed line. This is an inconvenience, of course, and the garden hose running from one house to another across our front walkway is a hazard. The CPA Utility crews working on the problem on Friday had a grand old time, yucking it up and joking around for 4 hours until lunchtime, when they decided the problem was unsolvable without street excavation, after which point they departed. I guess they were looking forward to a Friday afternoon of light duty ahead of the weekend.

Apparently the water meter replacement program is an ongoing project based upon the ages of the water meters, and other houses' meters are being replaced. It occurs to me that other homes in our neighborhood and elsewhere in the city might be on the list, and the next home that experiences what we are experiencing could be yours.

I would encourage each of you to contact the water supervisor, Brian (last name unknown) at 496-6982 as well as the utility community liaison Debra Katz at 329-2474, and let them know that you do not want what happened to us to happen to you. Here are some specific points you might want to make if you decide to contact them:

1. Is my home scheduled to have its water meter replaced? If so, when, and how much advance warning will I get of the swap?
2. Is my water meter identified as a "problem meter"? (Ours was, apparently, due to its location and the presence of tree roots.) If so, what precautions are you taking to ensure that there is no extended interruption of our normal water service? For example, do you plan to initiate the excavation order at least 48 hours prior to the scheduled meter swap in case there is a problem that requires street digging?
3. If you are planning to swap my meter (and you do not plan to obtain prior authorization to excavate 48 hours ahead of time), I demand that you perform the work on a Monday or a Tuesday (and not in front of a holiday) so that if a digging permit (requiring a 48 hour wait time before starting the project) is necessary I won't have to deal with the extra days of normal service interruption due to the weekend or a holiday.
4. If you plan on jury-rigging a garden hose from my neighbor's water spigot to my water spigot in order to provide me with water how are you going to ensure that I and my neighbor do not have to endure sub-standard water pressure for an extended period of time? Additionally, what is the history of the hose you are using? Since I will be bathing in, doing laundry in, washing dishes in and drinking this water, I'd like to know if this rubber hose is certified as safe and that it has not been used previously in the transfer of chemicals or sewage. Finally, how are you going to implement this kludge system without creating a hazard for physically disadvantaged residents and their guests?

I urge you to make the phone calls to the utility contacts provided above. There is nothing that can be done to resolve this mess for us (or our next door neighbor), but if the utility gets a flood of calls from concerned neighbors it might prompt them to institute policies and practices that could prevent a similar situation for someone else in the future. Good Luck!!!

Comments (12)

Posted by Deep Throat, a resident of another community
on Nov 16, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Call the Utilities Department Director Valerie Fong at 329-2277.

Posted by JOEL HENNER, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2013 at 12:12 pm

JOEL HENNER is a registered user.

Thanks for the info, deep throat. I just left her a message and hope to have a follow up call with her on Monday.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2013 at 4:35 pm

I am stunned at this awful story as I live nearby. Thanks for the heads-up. BTW does anyone know why electrical power was off for several hours today (Saturday) in Duveneck/St. Francis??

Posted by Elena Kadvany, a resident of another community
on Nov 16, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Elena Kadvany is a registered user.

I'm a Palo Alto Weekly reporter. Utilities Department Communication Manager Debra Katz let me know that this disruption in water service only affects Joel Henner's house and will not impact anyone else in the neighborhood. The lack of notification is being investigated; the Weekly will post updates as necessary.

anonymous: Power was out for a few hours, most likely due to a palm frond that hit the electric line near Ivy Street. The Utilities Department posts regular, helpful updates on its Twitter: Web Link

Posted by Erin Mershon, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 16, 2013 at 8:55 pm

This is not the first time the Utilities Department has failed on communicating water outages. We had what was supposed to be routine maintenance on a nearby line and the utility workers broke the line. They notified residents of an outage only by walking door-to-door. If you weren't home, as we were not, you weren't notified. The City has all of my numbers and email and failed to use any of them to alert me to the outage. No notice was given to an estimated time to have the water back on.

When I called and emailed the Utilities department asking why no other notice was given, Debra emailed me and said that they only alert neighbors for routine outages and that I need to be on Twitter if I want those alerts.

If I'm getting multiple calls/emails/texts about various City alerts that don't affect me, I would hope that the Utilities department would also see it in their best interest to use these numbers to alert affected residents to outages.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 16, 2013 at 9:53 pm

By an odd coincidence I guess the water into my place was very murky last night ... this was in Crescent Park. Anyone else?

Posted by JOEL HENNER, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2013 at 10:56 pm

JOEL HENNER is a registered user.

Elana: Just to clarify your comment that this disruption in water service only affects my home: That statement is factually correct but it misses the point of my post entirely, that point being that other homes could be affected in the future if the water department continues to operate as it did on Friday. As I indicated to you when you called me this evening, everything I have to say is in the original posting, including my statement that

"…the water meter replacement program is an ongoing project based upon the ages of the water meters, and other houses' meters are being replaced. It occurs to me that other homes in our neighborhood and elsewhere in the city might be on the list, and the next home that experiences what we are experiencing could be yours."

As I indicated to you when we spoke, it has been made abundantly clear to me by the utility staff that there is nothing that can be done to benefit me. However there are things that other city residents can do to make sure they are not victimized like I was. If enough residents take the steps I recommend in my original post, then possibly the water department will implement changes to its procedures and practices to prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future. Think of it as "Lock It or Lose It" for utility customers.

In spite of the dismal experience I have had, I give kudos to Debra Katz for her sensitivity in responding to my concerns, and what appears to be a genuine effort on her part to learn from this experience and implement some changes. Bravo, Ms. Katz. I have separately communicated my concerns to the City Manager's staff along with some suggestions for policy changes that might spare other residents from this sort of aggravation. It will be interesting to see if this generates any kind of productive response.

The responses, from readers of my post and recipients of separate emails, have been an overwhelming mix of support and outrage, however I have had some negative feedback as well suggesting that perhaps I am being unreasonable, inflexible, or just plain soft. For those of you out there who feel this way, I invite you to come take a look at the Rube Goldberg water delivery system in place at my house and then tell me that you think this is OK, and if you do think it is OK, then I'd like to disconnect the garden hose delivering water to my house, draw a tall, cool glass of water from the end, and challenge you to drink it up. Cheers!

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 16, 2013 at 11:22 pm

According to something I read ... sorry I cannot cite a source, it is bad news to drink water from a hose like I used to do all the time on a hot day as a kid. Hoses, at least hoses these days have toxic metals in them like lead that apparently leach into the water passing through them. The City ought to pay for bottled water for you for this time.

But ... I have to also say, what other choice do they have. Can you put off changing the water meter? Was there a problem with it? This is not going to happen a again for a very long time. If sediment or other stuff is being pushed into the main and coming out in other people's water, maybe they ought to consider doing a big project all at once?

Posted by JOEL HENNER, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 17, 2013 at 8:53 am

JOEL HENNER is a registered user.

For those of you following this story you might be interested to hear that we awoke this morning to a home with no water. There is a trickle coming from the faucets, and only a few drops issuing from the shower. You, too, can enjoy this experience in your own home. Just wait for the water department to come in a do some routine meter maintenance! I have a call into the utility emergency number, we'll see what happens.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 17, 2013 at 10:55 am

Perhaps the city Utilities Dept should not have certain work done on Fridays (or before holiday periods), if there is such a risk of negative results that will impact the homeowners for an extended period of time.
This task/work seems to have some risk - lack of water for days - and that should be acknowledged and respected.
I also believe some sort of advance notice should be given to the homeowner if significant work will be done on the property, removal/change of a water meter or whatever. I have had a knock on my door to notify a crew would be checking my telephone pole (thank God it is in good shape and doesn't need replacement), and that didn't and wouldn't pose any issues.
Here is another example, though minor, showing how city or utility vendor work CAN affect a homeowner:
I went out in my backyard after a period of hours when a crew had been in various of our backyards re-stringing some new cable - I saw I had a big, loose end of a major cable lying in my backyard a couple years ago (connected above - I couldn't pull it out and remove it!); a city or utilities crew had changed out a line (no advance notice of such work) and I have a telephone pole in my backyard so it is understood crews will rarely/occasionally access that pole. However, this is after the work was done, the crew (I can't now recall if it was cable or phone - it certainly wasn't electrical!) just left the "old" cable strewn down, with a major section down from the elevated area, just lying in my yard. Even for this simple but undesirable situation (I didn't want to touch ANY line for safety reasons, of course), I had to track down who had left it in this way and tell 'em to come back and clear it off. I realize this is very minor compared to the situation described by Joel Henner, but it relates to having advance notice of utility type work (whether by city crew or contractor of separate vendor like a cable co.) AND having a contact name/phone number for means of contact SHOULD something odd arise.

Posted by Elena Kadvany, a resident of another community
on Nov 17, 2013 at 11:14 am

Elena Kadvany is a registered user.

Erin Mershon: I'd like to chat to hear more - can you email me at Thanks.

Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford
on Nov 17, 2013 at 11:38 pm

This is just awful, Joel, and I'm sorry this has happened to you and your family. Losing water ranks up there with losing power, and I truly hope it is resolved ASAP. I wonder if this water meter work will also be happening at Stanford--I'm hoping not!

Please keep us posted.

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