We do have options; there are better alternatives

By Stan Forbes, Les Portello, Paul Brady and Michael J. Harrington

Initially, Davis was involved in planning a joint surface water project that included the city of Davis, UC Davis and West Sacramento, with a pipeline running alongside Interstate 80 from the West Sacramento intake on the Sacramento River to Davis. Sometime around 2002, Davis city staff informed the City Council that West Sacramento had withdrawn from the deal, and a new project was planned involving Woodland, Davis and UCD.

Somewhat disturbingly, we now have learned that West Sacramento had not withdrawn from the project — in fact, Davis city staff had terminated the discussions with West Sacramento. UCD eventually decided that it did not want to pay for the new Woodland-Davis project, leaving the two cities to negotiate cost-sharing.

Shortly thereafter, the city was informed that a new wastewater treatment plant was needed to deal with the nitrates. Hence, Davis faces the overwhelming burden of paying simultaneously for two projects: a new wastewater treatment plant and a surface water project. This will triple our water rates and result in water/sewer/garbage rates among the highest in the state.

There are alternatives, but the massive amount of misinformation about the project has obscured the options. We are going to try to dispel some of that misinformation and set the record straight. It is critically important that citizens have accurate information so they can make their own evaluation of the risks — both in terms of water and the costs and the benefits of this project at this time.

* Davis does not need a surface water project to meet city wastewater discharge requirements. By managing our groundwater appropriately, we can meet our discharge requirements at relatively minimal cost.

* Davis water meets all state drinking water requirements.

* Davis will not lose our water rights if we don’t proceed with the surface water project. Our water rights are 40-year rights and they are secure. No city under similar circumstances has lost its water rights for not proceeding with a surface water project.

* Davis water quality is not deteriorating; it is, in fact, improving. Water from deeper in the aquifer has an undetectable level of selenium and is reasonably soft; in fact, it overlaps with river water in terms of its hardness. Since two new wells are already planned and the city will be re-piping some water for municipal landscaping needs directly from the intermediate aquifer, our drinking water soon will be drawn entirely from the deeper, high-quality levels. There is no credible evidence that we have a supply problem.

* The surface water project will not affect the cost of the wastewater treatment plant one way or the other. It has been claimed that the wastewater treatment plant will cost more without the surface water project, but that claim is not correct. Given these facts and the extraordinary cost of the combined wastewater and surface water projects, and the associated extraordinary total municipal utilities bill that Davis ratepayers, both residential and commercial, will have to bear, the city should consider either phasing in the wastewater treatment plant and the surface water project, or finding a more cost-efficient surface water project.

State regulations will not allow us to postpone the wastewater treatment plant, because the nitrogen ammonia limits are non-negotiable and cannot be postponed.

But the surface water project can be delayed because our drinking water is in compliance and the groundwater supply and quality are good. Remember that river water supply is not particularly secure because as snowpack decreases, our junior surface water rights will be curtailed in the resulting long, dry season.

That said, we do not advocate for postponing the surface water project. We advocate for accepting the offer West Sacramento has made to allow us perpetual use of 12 million gallons of surface water a day — the same amount that is planned by the Woodland/Davis project. Yes, West Sacramento has offered us a permanent right to the same amount of water offered by the Woodland/Davis project!

Joining with West Sacramento is the project that Davis initially planned, and it is the project that makes the most sense. The argument that Davis will be “just a customer” of West Sacramento is a red herring. A right in perpetuity is more than sufficient.

Joining with West Sacramento would cost less than the Woodland-Davis project, even given the very conservative figures provided for the West Sacramento option, which included high contingencies compared with what seem to be an unrealistically low estimate for the Woodland-Davis project. The cost advantage will end up being huge with West Sacramento.

West Sacramento has invited Woodland to participate as well. West Sacramento believes that the long-term savings of a regional project will be very large, and we agree. Woodland can reject or accept this offer. We think, however, that Woodland eventually will come to understand that this is a win-win-win solution, but if it doesn’t, it is still definitely in Davis’ interest to join West Sacramento.

It makes no sense for two towns to each build a separate, redundant water supply system. This is too expensive. Furthermore, it is environmentally irresponsible and will have far-reaching, unanticipated consequences.

Please remember that half of Davis households earn under $60,000. The cost of the Woodland-Davis project is unfair to the low-, moderate- and fixed-income Davis citizens who can’t afford it, especially senior citizens facing rising living expenses and medical costs. Extra costs are an unwelcome burden, especially for those struggling to feed, clothe and educate their children. Excessive and unnecessary debt for the Woodland-Davis project is the wrong choice.

Let your voice be heard. There are options. Vote no on Measure I. Visit the No on Measure I website at www.noonmeasurei.net or call 530-756-6856

— Stan Forbes is a former member of the Davis City Council and Davis Board of Education, Les Portello is a farmer and senior citizen advocate, Paul Brady is a retired UCD professor of physics and Michael J. Harrington is a former Davis City Council member and co-chair of the 2011 water referendum. Portello, Brady and Harrington are members of the Citizens for Clean, Reliable, Affordable Water campaign. 

Special to The Enterprise

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