While water rates balloon in the coming years so Davis can pay for its share of a surface water project, Village Homeowners Association board members have decided to take matters into their own hands and drill a non-city-operated well to cut down on community irrigation costs.
While the well won’t serve individual residences and their respective indoor and outdoor watering needs, it will help temper association dues, as homeowners are already shelling out an average of $60,000 per year, combined, to water internal parks, vineyards, orchards and community gardens.
If the shallow aquifers they’ve located under their West Davis property can accommodate it, the new well initially would provide non-potable water for the association’s two thirstiest green spaces: Parque Grande and the southern community vegetable gardens.
Together, the two neighborhood amenities make up about 20 percent of the association’s overall irrigating costs.
“If we had thought about this when Village Homes was first built, we would have done this to start with,” said David Morse, who has spearheaded the project for the homeowners association.
Village Homes, developed by Mike and Judy Corbett in the 1970s, is known for its pioneering energy-efficiency features and sustainable community design.
“Just from an ecological standpoint, it doesn’t make sense to take high-quality chlorinated water for landscape. … We should have designed and plumbed things to use non-potable water, (so this) is being smart about costs, but also matching the type of water that’s needed (with the application).”
Morse estimates that the well will cost the homeowners association about $115,000, though that number could change based on the bids contractors submit in the coming weeks. He expects that, based on the anticipated savings, the association can pay off the cost of building the well in eight to 11 years.
“We’re looking at ways of being more smart and efficient with how we’re doing the landscaping in certain areas,” Morse said. “We’re looking at replacing turf with native grasses that use less water, but some areas are centerpieces of our parks and we want to keep turf that’s popular for our residents.”
The association could pay off those costs sooner if the well produces enough water and if the board opts to build the infrastructure necessary to irrigate the smaller park in the neighborhood, Parque Chico, or other vineyards and orchards.
But even if the community isn’t able to reach those other spaces, Morse expects the association to save $11,000 to $16,000 per year on irrigation in five years.
Water rates for all water customers in Davis will continue to climb in the coming years while the city begins paying off its $113 million share of the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency surface water project. Once completed by late 2016, the project will pump water from the Sacramento River, treat it and pipe it to Davis and Woodland, serving as their new main sources of drinking water.
In March, two weeks after voters in Davis approved the project by an 8-point margin, the City Council elected to implement a billing system called the consumption-based fixed rate model that proportionately distributes fixed costs incurred by a water utility to water customers based on their previous usage trends.
When the rate structure was approved, some in the community worried that if larger consumers of water decided to go the way of the well, their departure from the city’s water system would transfer additional fixed costs to the rest of the ratepayers in Davis.
But according to Dianna Jensen, the city’s principal civil engineer, the city has been expecting such dropouts.
“The water conservation assumptions that were included in the rate model account for some of the larger areas converting to well irrigation,” Jensen said in an email to The Enterprise. “Each customer class had an associated conservation assumption, with the composite being about 20 percent.
“Ratepayers will not notice a difference in their water bills unless we re-evaluate the model, decide we are not generating enough revenue and then do another Prop 218 notice. We feel confident that the 20 percent conservation assumption will be adequate and we will not have to do that.”
— Reach Tom Sakash at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash