Water project honors community consensus

By Elaine Roberts Musser, Helen Thomson, Jerry Adler, Alf Brandt, Steve Boschken, Jim West and Jane Rundquist

The objective of the Woodland-Davis surface water project is to create a safe, sustainable and reliable source of clean water for our community. Many extremely qualified experts testified before the Water Advisory Committee, a group of knowledgeable citizens tasked to look closely at the water issue in Davis. Every one of those experts who spoke before the WAC agreed Davis needs a conjunctive-use project, using both ground and surface water. Every single WAC member concurred with a conjunctive-use project, in a unanimous vote.

We believe if Davis fails to implement a conjunctive use project, the city would not be acting in a fiscally responsible manner. Here is why:

* The city of Davis cannot sustain its present course of action. The city has been borrowing money on an existing line of credit to pay for its crumbling water infrastructure. This is because necessary water rate increases have been put on hold while decisions are being made on the best course of action.

Wells had to be taken off line because of contamination or subsidence problems. This predicament will increase over time as existing wells continue to be taxed far beyond their intended life span. It can be extremely expensive and infeasible to treat existing wells out of compliance with regulatory standards.

Once subsidence occurs, damage to the deep level aquifer and neighboring well systems is incalculable. UC Davis is one of our neighbors tapping into the deep level aquifer, and both Davis and UC Davis will be adversely affected by subsidence.

* Delay is likely to escalate costs for construction and financing. The current economic recession has created an enormously favorable bidding climate for a large project of this type. The city needs to take advantage of these conditions and exploit that benefit to the fullest.

* If voters fail to approve the surface water project, Davis runs the risk of being out of compliance with federal and state regulatory requirements now and in the future. The policy and legal trends are toward more stringent water quality and wastewater discharge requirements to protect the environment.

To deny this movement toward more responsible stewardship of our natural resources, by doing nothing, is irresponsible and could result in costly penalties. And those fines, according to a representative of the State Water Resources Control Board, could be as expensive as the cost to build the surface water project itself.

The fines imposed by the state are mandatory by federal law. The city of Woodland is currently paying penalties for being out of compliance with regulatory requirements. Fines will dramatically increase if any city is not making a good-faith effort to resolve its compliance problems.

* Regionally partnering with Woodland makes sound economical sense. It is of mutual benefit to both cities, saving each of them a considerable amount of money. On the advice of the WAC, the size of the water treatment plant has been reduced as much as is feasible. The result has been to decrease costs considerably to the customer. Davis is paying only its fair share of the Woodland-Davis Surface Water Project, the portion the WAC itself requested and deemed equitable.

The days of “cheap” water in California are over. The fact is that every community in California must grapple with ever more stringent federal and state regulatory standards. Drought, the collapse of wells and subsidence are serious considerations that all municipalities must take into account as well. If Davis doesn’t have a safe, reliable and sustainable supply of clean water, then homes, schools, parks, businesses, all property values and the entire local economy will suffer as a result.

It is extremely important to honor community consensus. It was determined by expert testimony at the WAC that “modest improvements in groundwater management” would not necessarily “keep Davis compliant for years to come” with the new regulatory requirements, as opponents of Measure I suggest. Graham Fogg, a UC Davis professor of hydrology, said it best in testimony before the WAC:

“When I came to Davis 23 years ago, there was a prevailing view that the water quality in the intermediate aquifer was invulnerable because there was layer after layer of clay and silt overlaying the aquifer, and that groundwater recovers every year. … In the ‘90s, I started predicting what was going to be happening to water quality … and unfortunately my predictions are coming true. …

“We are seeing deeper and deeper migration of contamination … I’ve seen it before. The thinking then was it is a big confined aquifer, it’s protected, and it’s invulnerable. But guess what? At the rate of about … a well every two years … for the past 15 years in Davis, you’re seeing adverse impacts. … So … I do hate to see a mistake made twice. … I think it would be a mistake to assume that the deep aquifer is invulnerable, will stay clean indefinitely …”

As a consequence of independent expert testimony and after extensive committee deliberations, the WAC unanimously approved a conjunctive-use project. Other options were thoroughly investigated in an exhaustive process. The Woodland-Davis Surface Water Project was determined to be the best alternative. The City Council unanimously agreed. To delay is to ignore community consensus and the facts, endangering our future water supply for generations to come.

Let your voice be heard and vote a resounding “yes” on Measure I.

— Elaine Roberts Musser chairs the Water Advisory Committee; Helen Thomson, Jerry Adler, Alf Brandt, Steve Boschken and Jim West are WAC members; and Jane Rundquist is a WAC alternate. Their titles are included for identification purposes only and do not imply support in any official capacity.

Special to The Enterprise

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