Ruling requires reviews before well-drilling
By Susanne Hilty
REDWOOD CITY -- Activists seeking to save the underwater aquifer in San
Mateo and San Francisco counties are claiming victory in a judicial decision
that could require a state review be conducted before well-drilling permits are
The suit, filed by the Committee to Save Lake Merced in March, focuses
the drilling of a well by the California Golf Club on Westborough Boulevard in
South San Francisco.
The County approved the drilling and issued a permit in January, without
environmental review, as per County policy.
But activists believed the policy did call for a review under the California
Environmental Quality Act, and that the County had misinterpreted its own
policy for years.
Judge Phrasel Shelton agreed with the plaintiffs, and ordered that an
environmental review was needed.
"It is a victory," said Jerry Cadagan of the Committee to Save Lake Merced.
"The good news is the County is waking up to the fact that there are
environmental implications to pumping water out of the aquifer."
Activists claim that the well would "aggravate existing environmental problems
caused by excessive withdrawal of groundwater from the aquifer that extends
from Golden Gate Park to the San Francisco Airport." The group claimed that
a review was required under CEQA.
The aquifer provides drinking water for three San Mateo County cities --
Bruno, Daly City and South San Francisco.
The County maintained that the environmental was not required, as the
conditions for a well permit are "ministerial" and not up to the discretion of the
The argument was rebutted by the Committee To Save Lake Merced, which
claimed that the policy required the County to use discretion in approving
projects that may cause contamination or pollution, and therefore a CEQUA
review was needed.
Activists claim that golf courses and cemeteries that use water from the
should be using recycled water instead of depleting the drinking water supply.
Eventually, the committee claims, the aquifer will become so depleted that salt
water will intrude and destroy the source of drinking water.
Lawyers for the golf club and County would not comment after the decision.
Shelton issued a writ of mandate -- in effect ordering that all wells drilled
Mateo County will have to undergo a CEQUA review. However, as Cadagan
said outside of court, there are still many exemptions that can be made to avoid
an environmental review.
CEQUA exemptions may apply, Shelton said in court, but he noted that those
matters were not before him to decide in this matter.
Cadagan is hopeful that the decision will make County officials more aware
the environmental consequences of projects they approve.