By Eileen Samitz
Like so many Davis residents, I was torn between the pro and con arguments on Measure I, the proposed Woodland-Davis surface water project. What really helped me decide how to vote was seeing the televised debate between the two sides sponsored by the Vanguard of Davis, and continuing to read the articles, letters and op-ed pieces in The Davis Enterprise before and after that debate.
Opponents of Measure I claim: 1) “there is nothing wrong with our water quality,” and 2) “there is no urgency to address our water issues,” however, I cannot agree with either of these presumptions. As the deadline draws near for mail-in votes to be received by March 5, here are some of the many reasons to vote “yes” on Measure I.
* Our intermediate aquifer is loaded with hard minerals, which cause scaling to build up on plumbing and fixtures and ruin our water appliances. Additionally, the nitrates from agriculture are getting into our groundwater, which has rendered some well water unsafe for drinking by young children, and those wells have had to be shut down.
Nitrates are increasing in all of our remaining intermediate aquifer wells. There is also excessive selenium and boron in our wastewater, which is harmful to our wildlife and plants in our wetlands. We are now under order from the Regional Water Board to reduce these unsafe discharges.
* It is common sense that the deep aquifer is a finite resource and drawing down our wells into the deep aquifer is not sustainable long-term. It has been made clear by experts that if we were to drill down more into this limited resource, we risk depletion and/or contamination from the upper aquifers.
* The solution to our water problem is to use surface water from the Sacramento River. This solution was unanimously recommended by the citizen-based process of the Davis Water Advisory Committee. This committee included water experts and the resulting recommendations are good solutions to our looming water problem. The WAC rejected the West Sacramento option for many reasons and recommended partnering with Woodland to co-own and co-build a new surface water plant using the most current technology.
* Why Woodland and why not West Sacramento for a surface water project?
The WAC understood that:
— With the West Sac option, Davis would be only a customer (not a co-owner) purchasing some of their excess water. With the Woodland option, Davis would be a co-owner of a new technology plant for higher-quality water, sustainable into the future.
— West Sac has an old technology using chlorine-based processing of the water, leaving chlorinated hydrocarbons in the water. Many of these chlorinated by-products, including chloroform, are proven carcinogens. In contrast, with the Woodland option we would use a new cleaner, safer technology using activated oxygen (i.e., ozone) to take impurities out of the water, rather than chlorine.
— Furthermore, environmentalists agree that the West Sac option cannot work because many miles of habitat would be significantly damaged in trying to install pipeline through the sensitive Yolo Bypass and Yolo Basin Wildlife Preserve to Davis.
— Finally, West Sacramento confirmed verbally, and in writing, that a surface water project was not going to work between Davis and West Sacramento.
* Cost has been an issue raised by opponents of Measure I, however, they do not explain that our rates must double even if Measure I is voted down in order to maintain our current system. Plus, the city will then need to pay the high-cost fines because our water cannot meet state water discharge standards.
So why would we not instead invest those same costs into building a new, clean technology surface water system where we share costs with Woodland to reduce our costs, particularly when interest rates are currently so low? Furthermore, with Measure I, conservation efforts made by any residence would result in lower water bill costs for that residence, contrary to claims by Measure I opponents.
* The consequences are disturbing and far-reaching if we forgo this opportunity for cleaner, safer water. As a result of having no plan and no solution to our water problem we would continue to dump hard and highly salted water with selenium, boron and other damaging minerals into the wetlands, causing harm to our wildlife and habitat. Many environmental groups like Yolo Audubon Society, Tuleyome and the UC Davis Society for Conservation Biology all support Measure I because they agree that we need to stop the damage being imposed upon our wildlife and the wetlands.
* The longer we delay a solution, the more the costs accumulate because of our poor quality of water. Hard water coats our plumbing, like cholesterol plaque building up on blood vessels, narrowing the inside of our water pipes and continuing to destroy our water appliances. Everything from coffee makers, washing machines, dishwashers and water heaters to toilets, sinks and water fixtures are affected. Add to this the many caustic cleaning chemicals introduced into our wastewater that are used to try to remove these hardened minerals regularly.
Measure I opponents have not addressed the significant costs of: a) bottled water for drinking as well as for boron-sensitive plants, b) replacement of water appliances, landscaping plants, drip systems, c) expensive hard water cleaning chemicals, and d) salt for water softeners. All of these expenses continue into the future without Measure I. If we continue to ignore our water problem now, we continue paying the cumulative costs for dealing with our poor water quality and we delay the needed solutions. As result, we will face a much larger and more expensive problem later.
* Good planning means not taking unnecessary risks. We need to corrective action now, particularly when the warning signs of deteriorating wells and water quality are so clear. Waiting and gambling on our water quality and quantity only invites a water shortage and the continued deterioration of our water quality. To correct the problem later can only come at a much higher price for Davis when a crisis does occur. The reality is that we cannot afford to wait, nor should we continue to live with worsening water quality or risk facing a water shortage.
Measure I evolved through a citizen-based process and is supported by the Davis Water Advisory Committee, the City Council, many current and former city commissioners, numerous elected officials, senior citizens, environmentalists and residents. All of these Measure I supporters recognize that now is the time to move forward with the solutions that Measure I will bring us to our looming water problem.
Please vote yes on Measure I so we will have cleaner, safer and far better-tasting water that is also better for our health, our plants, our wildlife, our environment and our future.
— Eileen M. Samitz is a Davis resident and former Davis Planning Commission member.