Thursday, April 24, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Water affordability is a city responsibility

By Holly Bishop, Pam Nieberg and Nancy Price

Measure I directs the city to pursue the Woodland-Davis water supply project to provide 12 million gallons per day (mgd) of Sacramento River water to Davis and 18 mgd to Woodland. This project uses primarily surface water, but relies on groundwater (conjunctive use) when water demands are highest in the summer and drought years. The city attorney’s “impartial analysis” of the project states that Davis’ share of the cost would be roughly $120 million, yet the total cost for Davis could rise to $300 million.

Here’s why you should vote no on Measure I on March 5:

* Total project costs are unknown and unaffordable. The City Council is asking residents for a blank check because accurate total costs are unknown. No final contract has been bid, negotiated or approved by the Davis and Woodland city councils to design, build and operate this water project. Thus, the real amount needed for bond financing, including added debt service, is a guess.

When concerned residents challenged the City Council rates proposed in September 2011, we demanded that ratepayers be able to vote on any water rate increases, yet Measure I includes no rates and renters are excluded from the Proposition 218 process that takes place after the Measure I vote. Why are we voting on a project when details of true cost and rates are not on the ballot?

Measure I proponents state “rates will rise regardless of this project.” Yet no comparison between rates without and with the project is provided. This deliberately conceals the magnitude of rate increases with the project. Total project costs must include debt service, and also needed upgrades to our current system and purchase of Conaway Ranch water rights. In total, the cost to ratepayers of $30 million per year over many years is likely.

* It’s not about cost savings with conservation. The proposed project generates huge fixed infrastructure costs for water delivery. But water conservation that reduces city revenue creates the need for an equal increase in the cost of water to pay for the fixed infrastructure and water delivery costs. So, while conserving water is good, conservation will not significantly reduce costs and impacts heavy users such as schools, public parks and pools, and businesses.

* Impact on local and regional economy. There has been no fiscal analysis of this impact. Under this proposal, single-family water bills would more than triple by 2018, giving Davis and Woodland some of the most expensive water statewide. Including the wastewater treatment plant upgrade, Davis utility bills could reach over $3,000 per year, burdening households, especially those on fixed incomes.

Furthermore, high-water-use businesses will see costs rise and could pass these to the consumer. Extra household expenses will adversely impact local and regional economies, making it more difficult to pass measures to support our schools and public parks, play fields and pools. This should concern the Davis Chamber of Commerce and Davis Board of Education, yet representatives of these groups have endorsed this project.

* It’s a rushed project. Water quantity and quality are not an issue. No emergency exists either for additional water supply or to meet wastewater discharge requirements. With the recent addition of new deep aquifer wells to our system, our water quantity has improved considerably and the city can continue to supply affordable water to residents. Davis groundwater levels fluctuate, but are recovering to normal levels, so there is no danger of over-drafting the groundwater.

State Department of Water Resources studies show that area groundwater has not deteriorated in quantity over the past 50 years. In summer months, only up to 4 mgd of river water will be available and even less in drought years. Davis uses an average of 10 mgd and has a firm groundwater capacity of roughly 50 mgd. Significantly, modest, cost-effective improvements in groundwater management should keep Davis supplied with affordable water for years.

Water from deep wells has improved quality and softness. Currently, Davis meets all water quality standards and will in future years. There is no issue with selenium or salinity in the wastewater discharge, one reason given for urgent need of this project. River water is not necessary to meet our discharge requirements, nor will it significantly lower the costs of wastewater treatment.

* The project is unfair. Davis ratepayers will pay 30 percent more per gallon of water than Woodland pays. The Davis Water Advisory Committee did not endorse a project with this inequitable cost-sharing agreement. Why should Davis subsidize Woodland’s outsized development plans?

Vote no on Measure I. The real project costs and benefits must be better analyzed. Affordability means not creating financial hardship or undesirable economic impacts. Tripled water rates together with increased wastewater rates will burden residents and negatively impact the local economy by decreasing discretionary spending. If Davis residents want to ensure that affordability and sustainability of the community as stated in the General Plan are upheld, it is imperative that Measure I be defeated.

The Water Advisory Committee spent most of its time discussing rates, but even a brief review of the project led to a one-third reduction in size and scope. What other cost savings can be made? A thorough project analysis must occur and rates must be made public before any vote. Davis residents need to vote no on Measure I to ensure affordable water for the future.

— Holly Bishop, Pam Nieberg and Nancy Price are Davis residents and members of Citizens for Clean, Reliable and Affordable Water.

Special to The Enterprise

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