* Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories examining the proposed Woodland-Davis joint surface water project, including project specifics, the city of Davis’ water utility in general and arguments for and against Measure I in the March 5 mail-only election.
Davis and Woodland leaders established a Joint Powers Authority in 2009 to build a water project to serve both cities. But efforts to permanently alter the way both cities supply their residents with drinking water began much longer ago.
The idea of supplementing Davis’ ground water wells with surface water started gaining traction in the 1980s after the Davis Public Works Department conducted a study to analyze potential alternatives.
Jerry Adler, who served on the City Council from 1980 to 1992, remembers the report he and his colleagues received at the time.
“In the early part of my third term, we on the council approved a recommendation from the Public Works Department after they had done a study to look into various surface water options,” Adler said. “The first option that came out of that study, I think, was to look for water at the Tehama-Colusa Canal.
“That project (was considered) but didn’t really show an advantage to the city, going that route … (but) Public Works listed other sources to be considered and the Sacramento River was mentioned.”
Others in the community have speculated that the city was offered an opportunity to share water from Lake Berryessa in the 1950s, but scarce, if any, evidence has been found to substantiate that story.
In any case, during and soon after Adler’s tenure on the council, support began to grow throughout Yolo County for adding a secondary source of water to supplement wells.
And so, in 1994, according to Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency records, the Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District filed a water right application with the state Water Resources Control Board to pull water from the Sacramento River for use in Yolo County.
The application was later assigned to the cities of Davis and Woodland and UC Davis. Davis and Woodland would not receive those water rights for almost two decades.
Then, adding to the support for a secondary source of water, the state Regional Water Quality Control Board decided in 2001 to hand down more stringent regulatory wastewater discharge standards that cities throughout California would have to meet or be subject to substantial fines.
Part of the solution to the discharge problem for Davis and Woodland, naturally, was to upgrade their respective wastewater treatment plants.
The city of Woodland completed its upgrades in 2007. The city of Davis has been designing and implementing its own project, estimated to cost $95 million, with the hope of beginning construction later this year.
But the scheduled upgrades will not completely solve either city’s problems with state discharge requirements.
According to Bob Clarke, Davis’ interim public works director, the city would have to build reverse osmosis into its treatment plant to address the standards fully.
Instead, city staff eventually determined that pursuing a new source of water would be more cost-effective in the long run than implementing reverse osmosis.
Re-enter a surface water project.
In 2007, according to Clarke, the Davis City Council adopted an environmental impact report that concluded that using surface water from the Sacramento River was the best alternative.
Around that same time, the city of Woodland, scrambling for its own answers, was conducting studies of its own and similarly found that surface water from the Sacramento River would best help it address its water issues.
Davis and Woodland leaders eventually sat down together to discuss where they might be able to combine resources.
“Woodland and Davis staffs met during that same general timeframe,” explained Douglas Baxter, Woodland principal civil engineer and project manager of the surface water project for the city of Woodland. “In July of 2004, West Yost (Associates) did a study that looked at how much additional savings could be materialized working together and that’s how things came together.”
And the numbers penciled out.
So, after several years of work, in July 2009, the Davis and Woodland city councils met jointly to hash out the particulars of joining forces to bring the water west.
That September, the two cities agreed to form the Joint Powers Authority, setting in motion the process that would lead to the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency and the corresponding surface water project.
The agency also decided to partner with Reclamation District 2035, the entity that owns and operates the existing water intake facility on the Sacramento River.
Soon after the agreement was signed, the first cost estimates of the project began to roll in.
City engineers projected the bill would run about $325 million in total, with Davis carrying about $160 million of that load.
After a preliminary design, the project would be made up of an intake facility that could pump 40 million gallons of water per day — 22 mgd to Woodland and 18 mgd to Davis — a length of raw water pipeline to transport the water from the intake facility to a treatment plant in Woodland and treated water pipelines to deliver the water to homes and businesses in both cities.
The water agency also determined that a project of this magnitude would be most efficiently and cost-effectively built through a design-build-operate method where one firm would completely bid out the entire cost of the process, from blueprints to shovels in the dirt to flipping the “on” switch and running the day-to-day operations.
But before the cities could move ahead with the plans, first they would need to redeem those water rights that they had applied for so many years ago.
A 2010 agreement with the Conaway Preservation Group, the entity that owned the land where the JPA would build the intake facility, transferred the senior water rights to the water agency. The transfer, worth $79.1 million, was formally completed more recently, in November 2012.
The agreement also included easements to install a pipeline from the intake facility on the Sacramento River through Conaway Ranch, which covers 17,300 acres between the two cities, and into a new water treatment facility near Woodland.
The senior rights allow the cities of Davis and Woodland — through the water agency — to draw up to 10,000 acre-feet of water from the Sacramento River during the dry summer months, without interruption, which is enough to supply about 20,000 households with water for a year.
About $40 million would come from matching state and federal grants earmarked for projects that restored habitat for fish and other wildlife on the Sacramento River, called the Central Valley Project Restoration Fund.
But the majority of the costs would be shouldered by both cities’ water ratepayers. And, as residents would later find out, the project would triple their average monthly water bills.
This is where the story takes a twist.
In September 2011, the Davis City Council approved the five-year rates it would need to pay for its share of the project, but not without some pushback from local residents.
What’s next: After Davis residents qualify a referendum challenging the water rates, the council rescinds them and establishes a Water Advisory Committee to fully examine the proposed project and the rates necessary to pay for it.
Measure I at a glance
* Measure I ballots will be sent to all registered Davis voters the week of Feb. 4
* Ballot pamphlets including arguments and rebuttals for and against the project will be sent the same week
* Completed ballots are due by March 5 to the Yolo County Elections Office, 625 Court St. #B05, Woodland. They may be mailed to Woodland or put in a secure drop box at the Stephens Branch Library, 315 E. 14th St. in Davis
* Arguments and rebuttals for and against Measure I can be found under the elections page of the city clerk’s section of the city’s website, www.cityofdavis.org. They also were published on the Jan. 13 op-ed page in The Davis Enterprise.
— Reach Tom Sakash at email@example.com or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash