By Andrew Fulks, Chad Roberts, Alan Pryor and Bob Schneider
Davis residents value nature, our natural lands and our farmlands. From the scenic geology and diverse biology of the Inner Coast Range, to the fertile farmlands around us, to the beautiful and productive wetlands to our east, we live in a unique place. Recognizing the value of these natural assets of our own and our children’s future, Davisites have always worked hard to protect these special places and to contribute to a sustainable and vibrant regional environment.
But all is not well! Davis relies on 20 wells for its water; 16 wells pump water from an intermediate-depth aquifer while the remaining four are deep wells. The quality of drinking water we get from our intermediate-depth wells is deteriorating. The intermediate wells themselves are aging and becoming less reliable. Mineral contaminants in the water drawn from these wells pass through our homes and the city’s wastewater treatment plant, and are showing up and accumulating in the wetlands east of Davis.
These contaminants are contributing to the deterioration of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and to reduced water quality available for downstream users. Unless we obtain a reliable alternate source of potable water for our community, we will have to dig more deep wells. But the deeper we go, the less certain we can be about quality and sustainability of the water over time.
Measure I, by bringing surface water to Davis, will directly address these looming environmental problems while continuing our legacy of caring for our environment. Here’s how:
Importing high-quality Sacramento River surface water will eliminate the need to continue pumping contaminated intermediate aquifer water into our distribution system. The water from the intermediate aquifer will instead be diverted for park irrigation or the wells will be kept on standby for possible emergency use.
Importation of surface water also will greatly reduce our use of and dependence on our irreplaceable, high-quality deep aquifers. This will prevent overdrafts of the deep aquifer and reduce the possibility of damage to this resource because of subsidence and/or contamination from above.
Using high-quality surface water to replace existing low-quality water from the intermediate aquifer will greatly improve the quality of our wastewater discharged into the wetlands. Davis’ wastewater currently violates federal Clean Water Act regulatory standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency. The State Water Board has given Davis five-year time extensions to allow it to come into compliance with these regulations. The extensions expire in 2015 and 2017, depending on the constituents involved. By law, additional extensions cannot be granted. Stiff fines may be imposed if we do not meet our discharge requirements as has already occurred in Woodland and Dixon.
The Water Board is considering new salinity standards for wastewater discharged into wetlands that flow into the delta. Currently, Davis discharges high levels of salt in our wastewater because of the large number of salt-producing softeners used in Davis to remove high mineral content in our intermediate aquifer well water. Use of low-mineral river water will eliminate the future need for softener use in Davis, saving residents money while reducing the amount of salt we send to the wetlands.
These looming regulatory deadlines require that the city remove the contaminants either by upgrading the quality of water sent to our wastewater treatment plant or by removing large amounts of salts and minerals from wastewater. The latter option is prohibitively expensive. According to university and engineering experts, it would require a capital investment totaling hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of millions of dollars annually to dispose of the salt and minerals removed from the wastewater stream. Implementing the surface water project will solve this wastewater problem, by providing higher-quality source water to the city in a cost-effective and environmentally safe manner.
Opponents of Measure I argue we can delay implementing the water project because the city has secured rights to Sacramento River water, with the mistaken belief that this will buy us time to improve our wastewater quality. This false conclusion demonstrates a lack of understanding about both water rights in California and wastewater discharge enforcement law. Water rights are tighter than ever. Right-holders who do not use their water rights in the very near future risk losing them forever. We will then have to compete with thirsty cities in the south for our water if we don’t move forward now.
Currently, there is an exceptionally favorable climate for building capital works projects. This is due to aggressively competing bidders, historically low interest rates, and our ability to partner with Woodland to reduce Davis’ capital costs by tens of millions of dollars. We will never see another opportunity like this to build such an advantageous water supply project.
Plus, the preferred Woodland-Davis project will use ozone (triatomic activated oxygen) to clean and disinfect the river water in the most advanced, environmentally benign manner possible. Using ozone to purify water leaves only oxygen remaining in the water after purification. This produces far higher-quality water without the offensive taste and odor of chlorinated byproducts as used in the less desirable, older technology West Sacramento river water supply option.
We must make this public investment now to keep our community a desirable place to live. We owe it to future generations to give them what we know is a necessary legacy — clean and reliable water provided in an environmentally responsible and sustainable manner. Our promise must be that the quality of life for future Davisites will not be less responsible and sustainable than our own.
The surface water project is right for both the city of Davis and the environment on many levels. Now is the time to move forward. Please join us in supporting our environment and protecting our future legacy. Vote yes on Measure I.
— Andrew Fulks, is president of Tuleyome, Chad Roberts is conservation chair of the Yolo Audubon Society, Alan Pryor is a member of the Davis Natural Resources Commission and Bob Schneider is a conservation advocate.