By Michael Levy
I’ve had a harder time coming to a decision on Measure I than I thought I would. After all, it is expensive, our wells aren’t drying up, and I don’t particularly like the way the project and its funding are being presented and voted on.
However, in the end, it comes down to this: We need new water infrastructure, and the Davis-Woodland Water Supply Project is the best available option.
Do we need new water infrastructure?
Yes. The immediate issue is that we are not meeting discharge quality standards. Our current disposal of salty, heavy metal-laden wastewater into the Willow Slough and Yolo Bypass hurts fish and wildlife, and won’t meet water quality standards that are coming into effect. So both legally and morally, we are compelled to improve the quality of our wastewater.
Furthermore, our wells produce water that bumps up against drinking water quality standards for nitrate, arsenic and chromium. This isn’t about taste; water quality standards address toxicity. Many of our wells are at or near the end of their expected 30- to 50-year lifetimes and some have had to be taken off-line for failing to meet the basic water quality standards that protect our health. Decades of agricultural pollution have moved into our groundwater, and drilling new wells only pushes the problem down the road. We need a cleaner supply of water.
What about the alternatives?
Couldn’t we treat the water to make it healthier and tastier for us and compliant with discharge standards? We could. While treatment on the disposal side is unrealistic, we could treat water at wellheads using reverse osmosis. However, we shouldn’t.
Reverse osmosis requires a tremendous amount of energy, which makes it expensive and environmentally problematic. More problematic is the waste. The salts and heavy metals that are taken out of the water don’t just disappear; they are concentrated in a brine that then has to be disposed of, which is both costly and environmentally damaging. Thus, treatment is neither cheap nor environmentally friendly.
Another option was tapping into West Sacramento’s water supply; however, this option, while nearly as expensive as that proposed in Measure I, would have given us lower-quality, less reliable water.
Benefits of Measure I:
Measure I will allow us to partner with Woodland, secure $40 million in matching state and federal funds, and take advantage of an economic climate that is excellent for building.
We will secure a more reliable water source, enabling us to save our groundwater for times of shortage. Our drinking water will taste better and be better for us, and our wastewater will do less damage to the environment.
Measure I is necessary and it is the best option available.
— Michael Levy is a Ph.D. student at UC Davis in environmental science and policy and the Climate Change, Water and Society Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship.