Wednesday, April 16, 2014

It’s time to stop the scare tactics

By Bob Hagedorn, Pam Gunnell, Johannes Troost, William L. Rukeyser, Henry Bennett and Linda Bennett

It is time for the city to stop the scare tactics and to level with the citizens of Davis. The city’s own consultant reports have told us that our deep aquifer water is high-quality, clean water that is replenishing itself and showing no signs of overdraft. But the city has consistently chosen to push an agenda rather than stick to the facts.

First, we were told that we would lose our river water rights if we did not proceed immediately with the surface water project. When that proved to be incorrect, and it was acknowledged that we have a secure 40-year permit, we were told that we needed the surface water project to meet our selenium discharge requirements. A technical memorandum from Brown and Caldwell disproved this and concluded that “selenium target levels are met” with only minor changes in how we manage our existing wells.

Next, it was the hexavalent chromium scare tactic. However, when Rob Beggs of Brown and Caldwell addressed the Water Advisory Committee, he explained that our deep aquifer, from which we will soon be drawing all of our drinking water, has no hexavalent chromium problem.

We were then told that the deep aquifer was “deteriorating.” Beggs, however, said that our deep aquifer wells were healthy and showing no signs of deterioration, and he saw “no sustainability problems” at “current usage levels.” The city-commissioned Brown and Caldwell Engineers Phase II Deep Aquifer Study agreed, concluding: “Because the average water levels in deep wells do not appear to be decreasing over time, recharge is in approximate equilibrium with extractions from the deep aquifer.”

With continued conservation, and the city’s plans to re-pipe its municipal irrigation to draw from the intermediate aquifer, we should remain at or below current usage levels in the deep aquifer over the next couple of decades, even with projected population growth factored in.

Any changes to the deep aquifer, if they will ever occur at all, “will not be sudden, but will likely continue on a decades to centuries time scale,” project advocate Graham Fogg, a UC Davis hydrogeologist, acknowledged in a written communication. He concluded that even if changes eventually occur, “There is always the option of treating the groundwater to remove dissolved substances, much like we do routinely with surface water.”

Even Alan Pryor, the Yes on I campaign chairman, acknowledged that our deep aquifer water is of “high quality” and is “indistinguishable from river water.” We will be able to draw exclusively from this high-quality water shortly when our two new wells are operating. Our deep aquifer meets state and federal water quality and discharge requirements.

The final justification for moving forward was the “great manganese offensive,” a strange maneuver indicating sheer desperation. Manganese is not a threat to our health. Our consultant, Rob Beggs, told the WAC that he was surprised that the state even imposed limits on us. We would have to pay for manganese treatment with or without the surface water project, and the treatment costs are a drop in the bucket compared to the costs of surface water. In the worst-case scenario, we could pay for this wellhead treatment with the savings we would realize in interest alone by deferring the surface water project by only a few months.

We have seen similar misinformation about what the proposed surface water project will do to our water bills. The Woodland-Davis JPA sent fliers to households claiming that “water rates will remain lower than the statewide average,” but nothing could be further from the truth. As has been widely reported, our bills will triple over the next five years, and continue to rise thereafter. At current usage levels, single-family homes will pay $130 per month or more in eight years, nearly quadruple current rates.

Average monthly water bills for the same amount of water per month across the nine agencies in the Sacramento region are less than $47 per month. Most of the other regions of the state with higher water rates will pay far less per month than we would with this project because they are in coastal areas with little need for irrigation. And coastal areas have lower wastewater bills because they do not have tertiary treatment as we do. Coastal areas also have lower heating and air-conditioning bills.

The combined costs to Davis residents from water, sewer, heating, and air-conditioning will be crushing for many moderate- and lower-income households if we build this project.

Amazingly, we do not yet know the costs of the project since there have been no bids, and Measure I does not contain any provision to stop the project should bids exceed the promised $120 million in construction costs. Only two firms are still willing to bid on the project, and one firm had to be coaxed back into the process because of concerns that the costs will substantially exceed current estimates.

Two small rural towns cannot afford to build a redundant project when there are surface water systems with excess capacity in the region. The facts are that Davis can have clean and sustainable water by spending far less than what Measure I would require. There is ample time to find a better, more cost-effective solution to our long-term water needs.

We owe it to our children not to burden them with excessive and unnecessary debt for a generation. Please join us in voting no on Measure I.

— Bob Hagedorn is a former chairman of the Davis Planning Commission, Pam Gunnell is a teacher and former chairwoman of the Davis Planning Commission, Johannes Troost is a member and former chairman of the Davis Finance and Budget Commission, William L. Rukeyser was the state Water Board communications chief in 2005-10, and Henry and Linda Bennett are Davis residents.

Special to The Enterprise


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