There are responsible, cost-effective alternatives

By From page A11 | February 03, 2013

By William Kopper, Michael Bartolic and Mark Siegler

There are reasons why California state law recognizes that economic considerations must be taken into account when finding solutions for water and wastewater. It recognizes that we have a responsibility to individuals and families below the median income to support affordable solutions for these essential services.

State of California Water Code 106.3 (a) declares that it is the “policy of the state that every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water…” California’s Porter-Cologne Water Control Act says specifically that economic factors must be taken into account before a regional board can impose discharge requirements.

Because Davis must build an expensive, new wastewater treatment plan now, the proposed Woodland-Davis water project would cause the cumulative costs of Davis’ wastewater, water and garbage to be unmanageable if Measure I passes. By 2018, Davis citizens would have among the very highest utility bills in the state, by far the highest in the region, well beyond “affordable” for many citizens. With average annual municipal utility bills of $2,500 or more, it will unduly burden families, seniors and those on fixed incomes.

However, the rates you will see in your Proposition 218 notice are not the end of water rate increases. At the last minute, the City Council chose to stretch out the cost ramp-up to pay for the massive water project beyond five years by postponing the payment for some needed components and relying exclusively on debt financing. The city has lowered the rates in the first five years, but the rates will be higher than previously stated after five years. We expect monthly water bills to average $130 within 10 years, nearly quadruple current rates.

The council’s decision to base the largest component of the rates on summer use, rather than year-round use, will unfairly drive up costs to homeowners. Homeowners contribute to the attractiveness of our community by watering their landscaping and the city’s street trees. However, almost half the houses in Davis are rentals. Most of the leases for homes in Davis require the tenant to pay for city utilities. Most tenants will not pay an extra $50 to $100 per month to water the landscaping for a home that belongs to someone else. Our community will go brown and our street canopy will die.

There is an additional wrinkle to this summer usage-based scheme. Astonishingly, we have learned that the city has not been charging itself for water use. Most people are unaware that state law requires cities pay for their share of water costs according to the same principles of proportionality that would apply to any other user. Because apparently the city has not been abiding by state law, more costs have been shifted to the homeowner.

Because the city will be forced to rectify this eventually, it will have an enormous, and yet unknown, impact on the general fund, affecting other essential city services. Clearly, city staff needs to sort this embarrassing mess out before coming to voters to approve any project.

Proponents of Measure I attempt to frame the debate as the Woodland-Davis water project or nothing. This is a mischaracterization of our views. As members of the Davis Water Advisory Committee, we drafted and voted for the motion to “support a project that involves conjunctive use.” The WAC only voted to support the Woodland-Davis project if Woodland paid its full 60 percent share of all project costs. Instead, Davis will pay 30 percent more per gallon of water than Woodland. There are less costly alternatives than the proposed Woodland-Davis project that benefit Davis citizens.

When needed, the city of Davis may buy 12 million gallons per day of treated surface water (the same amount as the proposed project) in perpetuity from West Sacramento for $19.4 million. See http://city-council.cityofdavis.org/Media/Default/Documents/PDF/CityCouncil/Water-Advisory-Committee/Agendas/20121018/Packet/Item-04-Surface-Water-Project.pdf.

If Davis wishes to purchase less capacity, it will be at the same rate of approximately $1.6 million per million gallons per day of demand. Surface water from West Sacramento will be far less expensive.

The costs of the Woodland-Davis plant are not yet known. The state Department of Health has required additional studies of the plant because it may not be a safe distance from the Woodland sewage treatment facility. The water treatment plant may have to be covered, involving millions more in costs.

Proponents of Measure I have pointed to ozone disinfection as one of the main reasons to choose the proposed project over a West Sacramento alternative. Ozone, however, does not replace Clean Water Act requirements for a disinfection residual; therefore, chlorine will still be required. As Wikipedia reports, “Due to current regulations, systems employing ozonation in the United States still must maintain chlorine residuals comparable to systems without ozonation,” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chlorination)

We also believe the cost advantages of the West Sacramento option will end up being much larger than the current estimate of $23 million. Because the West Sacramento pipeline costs are preliminary estimates, the consultants added a 30 percent contingency cost to this option. As the project is refined, costs almost certain will fall. The pipeline from West Sacramento to Davis is only a little longer than the pipeline from Woodland to Davis.

In 2012, Carollo Engineering conducted an analysis of a Davis-Woodland-West Sacramento option and a Davis-West Sacramento option and found “no fatal flaws” with either project with regard to existing facilities, modifications, long-term expansions, treated water conveyance, environmental constraints or water rights.

By rejecting Measure I, we will be able to pursue the responsible, most cost-effective solution of a regional partnership with West Sacramento and Woodland, or West Sacramento alone if Woodland chooses to go it alone. We will be able to get surface water when we need it.

— William Kopper, Michael Bartolic and Mark Siegler are all members of the Davis Water Advisory Committee. Kopper was a member of the Davis City Council from 1976 to 1984, and served as mayor from 1982 to 1984. Bartolic was a member of the Davis Parks and Recreation Commission from 2001 to 2012 and a liaison to the Open Space Commission. Siegler serves as chair of the Davis Finance and Budget Commission.

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