Why I support Measure I

By From page A6 | February 01, 2013

By Brett Lee

When I campaigned for Davis City Council, my platform on the water issue was for a more affordable project that was appropriately sized and, most importantly, voter-approved. The project that is now being proposed in Measure I is about $30 million less expensive, and has shrunk in size from about 18 million gallons a day to 12 million gallons a day.

And on March 5, we will all get to vote on it — yes or no. Prior to March 5, all voters will receive a mailer from the city that clearly spells out the rate increases that will be required if the project is approved.

How should you vote on Measure I? I suppose that depends on you. I do, however, hope that your decision will be based on the facts, not the some of the half-truths that have been swirling around the discussion of this project.

Here are some facts that are not in dispute:

Our drinking water meets all current standards. But it is not correct to add “and always will.” The more complete picture is that our water does meet all current standards, but the standards are likely to change. We can expect changes in allowable levels of the constituents currently regulated, and it is likely that additional constituents will be added to the regulated list. We do not know what the new standards will be, but it can be reasonably anticipated that the regulations will be more strict and we may have difficulty in meeting them.

On the flip side, it is also not correct to say that “we will be fined if we don’t obtain surface water.” We may be fined, but it depends on what the new limits are and what new constituents are added to the regulated list.

The intermediate aquifer that we have relied on for our water has had declining water quality over the years. We are moving away from this as a water source because of the difficulty in meeting existing drinking water standards with this source. We have shifted to using the deep aquifer, which generally has higher water quality than the intermediate aquifer.

However, the deep aquifer that we are using today is also showing signs of a decline in water quality.

The water experts that spoke before the Water Advisory Committee said they are not able to tell if the quantity of water in the deep aquifer can sustain our current level of water usage. They are not able to accurately determine the aquifer recharge rate.

Based upon the above facts and the following personal views, I have come to my position on the water project proposal:

I believe that the long-term trend of declining water quality in our aquifers will continue.

I also believe that in the long run, it is not prudent to assume that the aquifers we are using will be able to keep up with the demand we are placing on them as our sole source of water.

I do not believe it is wise to follow a path of “using up” the deep aquifer and then trying to switch to river water at some future date. What has not been widely publicized is that in drought conditions, access to river water can be greatly restricted. If river water use is restricted, we would need to supplement our system with well water far in excess of the modest well water usage currently planned for each summer. In anticipation of a possible drought scenario, it would be wisest, therefore, if we conserved our deep aquifer supply rather than deplete it.

And although this may sound self-serving, I wonder how the property value of my home and my neighbors’ homes would change if we no longer had a clean, dependable supply of water.

It is for these reasons that I have decided to support Measure I. Reasonable people may disagree and reach different conclusions.

As a final check on my thinking and decision-making, I thought about the two alternatives: build the plant or not build the plant.

If we build the plant, what is the worst-case scenario? The worst case would be that we really didn’t need it (let’s call this scenario 1). What is the result? My very rough ballpark estimate of my share of the new water project cost is around $8,000 ($130 million project divided by 16,000 ratepayers = $8,000; this is my share of the new project cost, not an ongoing yearly cost). So worst case with scenario 1, is that I ended up spending an extra $8,000 (plus interest) spread over 30 years on insurance against running out of water.

If we don’t build the plant, what is the worst-case scenario? The worst case would be that at some point in the future, due to deteriorating water quality or quantity (or both), we need to find an additional supply of water. What is the result? If an accessible, inexpensive and plentiful supply exists at that time, then we will be OK. If such a supply is not available, our community will suffer (let’s call this scenario 2). Our home values will take a hit. So worst case, with scenario 2, I am looking at a sizable financial loss.

And how does one assess the likelihood of either of these scenarios?

It depends on your time frame. If you plan on living in Davis for a long time, and have or plan to establish deep roots in our community, scenario 2 becomes potentially more likely. If you are just passing through, neither scenario is likely to affect you much.

I have a long-term time frame when I look at this question. Sixty-five years ago, my grandparents moved to Davis. Today when I think about the future, I would like my 4-year-old son to be able to enjoy the type of Davis that I have benefited from. I must therefore assess the risk of scenario 2 coming true as something that cannot be ignored. Again, this leads me to support the proposed water project.

As a side note, most people know I am not a supporter of peripheral development. I believe that the most important way we can protect our community from sprawl development is through the Measure J/R process (the requirement that any annexation of county agricultural land for residential development must be approved by a citywide vote). The idea that we would create a water shortage for our community in order to restrict potential future development seems to me to be off the mark.

— Brett Lee is a Davis City Council member.

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