Early Stakeholder Engagement Always Matters

GroundwaterBasinMapDelivering an Emergency Supply Project with Stakeholder Support

Author: Miranda Iglesias

Yes, stakeholders always matter and in some cases, they can decide the course of a project. At times, project teams assume the community will support a project because they have a technical understanding of the benefits. However, there can be stakeholder opposition if the benefits are not communicated in a clear, concise manner and early on in the life of a project. One way to lay the groundwork for community support and understanding is to implement a public outreach program that incorporates a process for the public to participate in during the environmental phase.

While seeking California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) approval, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) encountered initial opposition from stakeholders when the Regional Groundwater Storage and Recovery Project (Project) embarked on this phase of work. The SFPUC led the charge to engage with three regional partners to design, build and deliver the Project, ensuring the long-term management and sustainability of the South Westside Groundwater Basin (Basin). As one of the first conjunctive-use projects in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Project allows the SFPUC, City of Daly City, City of San Bruno, and California Water Service Company to operate the Basin in a sustainable manner and provide a new 20 billion gallon regional dry year groundwater supply to customers.

With all these wonderful benefits, it’s hard to think that stakeholders wouldn’t want it, right? However, regional golf courses, a local school district, and cemeteries had a number of concerns about how the Project would impact the Basin overall. Some concerns included current water levels, construction and noise impacts and current well systems. The on-site Katz & Associates team worked closely with the Project team to provide these key stakeholders additional Project information and details, as well as answer their questions to alleviate their concerns. The Katz & Associates on-site team also played a key role in coordinating and facilitating discussions and information sharing between stakeholders and the Project team to agree upon construction details. Ultimately, this approach not only secured CEQA approval in August 2014, but the SFPUC gained some strong Project supporters who have remained supportive during construction.

Currently, the Project has installed 1,800 feet of pipeline through one of the oldest cemeteries in the region and finished drilling a 730-foot-deep well at a middle school this past July. As we face one of the driest years on record, our community partners continue to understand and support the critical nature of the Project, and they are working hand-in-hand with the contractor throughout construction to ensure the Project remains on schedule.

The Katz & Associates on-site team has been working on various projects with the SFPUC for the past six years as part of the Water System Improvement Program to seismically retrofit and upgrade the regional water system to ensure it will remain functional after an earthquake.