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Water committee to pick rate structure, its last big water project decision

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From page A1 | November 08, 2012 | Leave Comment

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What: Davis Water Advisory Committee

When: 6:30 p.m. today

Where: Community Chambers, Davis City Hall

Watch it: Live on City Government Channel 16 on Comcast and on AT&T U-Verse Channel 99

The Davis Water Advisory Committee will be asked to make a recommendation on the city’s water rate structure tonight, its last substantial decision regarding the surface water project before the City Council puts the whole thing to a public vote in March.

The committee also could learn rough estimates of potential rates that water customers might see on their utility bills to pay off the debt service on the project over the coming years.

Bartle Wells Associates, the city’s rate consultant, will present two different structures that the city could implement to manage the way it bills its customers.

The first type is called a tiered rate structure, which bills residents on a sliding scale based on how much water customers use per month and then a flat or fixed rate based on the size of their water meter.

The most common water meter size for residents in Davis is 3/4-inch, for which residents currently pay $23 every two months to use.

According to Doug Dove of Bartle Wells, the tiered structure is the most popular in California.

The other option that committee members can choose from is a brand-new type of rate structure, invented by water committee members Frank Loge and Matt Williams.

The never-before-tried structure would bill customers for the water they use on a sliding scale — similar to a tiered structure — while charging proportional base fees based on each customer’s previous year’s use of the entire water system.

As Williams explained to The Enterprise back in September, even when two customers with the same meter size use two very different amounts of water, they still pay the same base fee under a tiered structure.

“Thrifty and extravagant water users pay the same fixed fee, but derive entirely different benefits from the system they fund with their fixed fees,” Williams and Loge wrote in a flier they would later present to the water committee. “The thrifty user’s fixed fees (actually) cover some of the fixed costs the wasteful user imparts on the system, in effect, subsidizing the water waster.”

Loge and Williams believe their consumption-based fixed rate structure would solve that problem.

City Manager Steve Pinkerton said at the time, however, that the new structure could be difficult to implement soon enough to put in place before construction begins on the surface water project.

New rates likely would be set in the spring.

Whatever the committee decides, water rates are likely to double or possibly even triple over the next five years while the city pays off the debt service on the infrastructure and operational costs of the $102 million project.

As WAC Chair Elaine Roberts Musser said in August, the rates will hurt no matter what.

But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been worse.

Since the water committee went on the job in January, it has chopped off anywhere between $30 million and $60 million from the original price tag of the project that the city of Davis first signed up with Woodland to pursue in 2009, according to city estimations.

Over the course of its work, the committee determined that the original project was too large and subsequently was able to reduce its size by one-fourth from a system providing 40 million gallons of water per day to 30 mgd.

The reduction saved both cities millions of dollars.

The WAC eventually voted 8-2 in October to recommend the smaller Woodland-Davis project to the council over a $90 million West Sacramento alternative because ownership and control of the finished plant would provide more security for Davis in the long run.

West Sacramento would have required the city to buy in as a customer to its existing surface water intake facility on the Sacramento River and then build a pipeline through the Yolo County Bypass to transport the water to town.

The City Council approved the WAC’s recommendation to move forward with the Woodland-Davis project on Oct. 23.

The project will siphon water from the Sacramento River, treat it and pipe it to Davis and Woodland to replace each city’s reliance on ground water for their drinking water supplies.

City Principal Civil Engineer Dianna Jensen has estimated the cost of the project to be about $102 million before operation and maintenance.

— Reach Tom Sakash at tsakash@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter @TomSakash

Tom Sakash

Tom Sakash covers the city beat for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at tsakash@davisenterprise.net, (530) 747-8057 or @TomSakash.
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