Yesterday I saw my first “YES on measure I” yard sign; predictably it was in a yard that hasn’t been watered for several years.
That reminded me I must soon decide how I will vote on the water issues facing our community. In such case most of us turn to what we know and brewers know about water.
Brewers use enormous amounts of water to make beer. Under excellent circumstances brewers need nearly four barrels of water to make one barrel of beer. That number applies to very large modern breweries where they make stringent efforts to conserve water. In the use of any resource that might be dwindling in amount or increasing in price (or usually both) the first recourse to wise management is conservation. Brewers know that the cheapest water or cheapest energy is that not used.
Brewers must also have water of a certain quality or that can be treated to a required standard for brewing use. Generally speaking brewers prefer to use well water or bore-hole water because it is typically pure and consistent and free of microbes and easily treated. Surface water from rivers or lakes is generally less desirable because it may carry pollutants from agriculture, mining, industry, urban street run-off and even domestic sewage, for example, that is difficult to remove by the rather simple treatments that brewers prefer; think of the Sacramento River as an open drain for 27,000 square miles of Northern California. Furthermore, well/bore-hole water is generally more reliable.
For all these reasons, I have been curious and even suspicious of the debate now crystallized in the form of Measure I on which we shall all be required to vote on March 5. I like to understand what I am voting on before I vote for or against it; unfortunately the City Fathers have done a poor job of telling me what the problems really are that require such a monstrous and immediate outlay of money.
I feel quite well-informed about what will happen to my water bill if the city project goes forward as now proposed. For that I thank The Wary I, columnist in this newspaper; he has made every effort to understand the arcane water-rate structures of our future and to explain them clearly. From the efforts of The Wary I, I know that my water bill will rise substantially, though the methods by which it may be computed leave me gasping; though informed, my eyes are glazing over with incomprehension. Again, I like to comprehend what I am getting into before I get into it.
What I don’t understand, however, is the root cause for making the change and taking on this huge new investment.
For advice I turned to the city website and soon turned up a report written almost exactly four years ago by two men whom I know and admire and are experts in the field: Profs Ed Schroeder and George Tchobanaglous. The objective of their report was to explore and weigh the alternative strategies available and to advise how to spread the costs of change wisely.
They report that the quality of our water supply is decreasing with problematic levels of nitrates, selenium, heavy metals and total salinity; they do not record how much is present nor whether it is dangerous to water drinkers (thankfully I’m not one) or how they know this is true. But I’ll take their word for it. Also the security and reliability of our existing ground water sources is decreasing even as demand is rising. Again there is no evidence provided to support this assertion but, as things age, such a result can be expected.
So there is a supply problem.
There is also a disposal problem.
The quality of the waste-water produced by our treatment plant and our methods of dispersal cannot reliably meet current state standards, especially regarding selenium.
In both cases there is a possibility that the state will raise the quality standard required of drinking water and of waste-water alike; though predicting the future is tough work, this possibility suggests that Davis may run the risk of non-compliance and so may be subject to fines.
Ed and George examine a number of innovative solutions for conservation (as noted above that is a crucial part of any resource management), including fixing leaks and water redirection and re-use as well as new water sources; they provide tables that examine the advantages and disadvantages of various scenarios that are informative and worthy of study.
But here is a point that took me by surprise: apparently the Sacramento River will be able to provide water to the city of Davis, particularly in the summer months, only if there is water left over after all the other demands for water have been met; this is unlikely in most years! Since the summer is the high-use period when usage averages about 280 gallons per person per day that is when we shall need most help. They note that this supply could further be severely and negatively affected by climate change (I suppose mountain snowpack) and drought, and the requirements of the Delta and the peripheral canal, growth of other communities with priority and so on. And so, never mind what, our poor old much-maligned low-quality water supply and infrastructure will remain a crucial part of our future water system and supply.
Ed and George summarize their findings in “A Recommended Path Forward”; there are six points to this but I’ll summarize only the three relating to water supply:
* Obtain water from the Sacramento River;
* Drill new deep-aquifer wells; and
* Implement an aggressive program of water conservation.
Now, I might be the only person in the city of Davis lacking a solid base of information and understanding on this water issue and so doubtful of how I should vote on Measure I. I know my brewer’s suspicion of surface water warps my assessment but, I have to say, I was pleased to find the report of Profs Schroeder and Tchobanaglous online; it may help you too.
— Reach Michael Lewis at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com