With hundreds of millions of public dollars at stake, the Water Advisory Committee had every obligation to turn over all available stones during its investigation of the city’s water utility and the possible addition of surface water.
Perhaps the stone that the water committee scrutinized the most, aside from the Woodland-Davis surface water project, was the West Sacramento alternative.
Some WAC members came to believe that a plan to buy water treated in West Sacramento could have saved Davis and its water ratepayers tens of millions of dollars over a proposal to partner with Woodland and build a joint treatment plant and delivery system.
Some still believe that.
But by late October, the WAC voted 8-2 to recommend that the City Council pursue the Woodland project.
This is the information the WAC was presented to make that decision:
First, the cost specifics.
The Woodland-Davis project would pump water from the Sacramento River, treat it and pipe it west, supplementing each city’s groundwater. The cost to Davis is estimated at $113 million.
West Sacramento’s last offer would have had Davis “plug in” to West Sac’s existing intake facility, called the Bryte Bend Water Treatment Plant, which sits farther south on the Sacramento River than the Woodland-Davis project intake.
Then, Davis would have needed to build and pay for a pipeline across the Yolo Bypass to transport the treated water — a guaranteed permanent supply — to Davis.
Carollo Engineers, a California-based engineering firm, worked up a Davis cost estimate of $90 million.
Second, the non-cost specifics.
Aside from the price tag associated with both options, the WAC had other factors to consider when weighing the pros and cons. When the two projects were compared side by side, according to what the WAC was told by water experts and attorneys, the Woodland-Davis project earned every check mark, except for the dollar figure.
* The Woodland-Davis project uses ozonation compared to chlorination in West Sacramento. Water quality? Check for Woodland-Davis.
* The Woodland-Davis project has secured junior and senior water rights to draw water from the Sacramento River at the Reclamation District 2035 access point; through West Sacramento, Davis would have to go through a three- to six-year process, according to Davis city staff, to transfer the water rights. Water rights? Check for Woodland-Davis.
* The Woodland-Davis project allows each city to be an owner and allows each full autonomy, in collaboration, to decide how the facilities are operated. Control over facilities, decisions of public vs. private operation? Check for Woodland-Davis.
* The Woodland-Davis project allows each city to set its own water rates, compared to West Sacramento, where the city of Davis would be a wholesale customer. Rate control? Check for Woodland-Davis.
* The West Sacramento alternative would cost at least $23 million less than Woodland-Davis proposal. Cost of the project? Check for West Sac.
City Manager Steve Pinkerton said Tuesday that the WAC’s decision had to be about more than dollars.
“There are a lot of intangibles that are difficult to put a price on,” Pinkerton said. “There’s the fact that there was no guarantee we could get water rights and no guarantee that we could go across the bypass. So while you can’t put an exact number on it, I think West Sac would have had to have been significantly less (costly), probably by a factor of half before you could seriously consider it.
“(Then) there’s a future unknown cost that’s going to be attributed to us for the expansion (of West Sacramento’s plant) and with future regulatory requirements, we have no idea what that is,” Pinkerton added. “That could have wiped out any cost savings, even in the preliminary estimates.”
However, former Mayor Sue Greenwald, who was on the council when West Sac first approached Davis about a surface water supply in 2002, said the uncertainty is about the Woodland-Davis project, not West Sacramento.
“I don’t think the cost figures given by city staff were accurate,” Greenwald said. “It’s much cheaper than the figures show because they gave a 30 percent contingency to West Sacramento.
“They gave us a figure 30 percent higher than what they thought would be likely … but they didn’t do that for the Woodland-Davis project,” Greenwald added. “Their argument is that (the Woodland-Davis project) is further along” so it’s easier to make more accurate estimations.
“(But) I think it should be the opposite. They should have upped the contingency for the Woodland project because it doesn’t even have bids in yet, and not used the contingency for West Sacramento because we know most of the costs already.
“If you do that, it’s hands down cheaper to go with West Sac.”
Pinkerton argues, however, that Davis would have had to have seen the substantial savings right away to feel comfortable pursing the West Sacramento alternative further.
“Unless up front there was a huge cost differential, we in the city we’re in the business of not speculating, but ensuring that we have water, and that we have it at the best possible price,” Pinkerton said. “We were never at a point in time when there was any comfort level with (West Sacramento).
“At the end of the day, we have to make sure that the service gets provided.”
— Reach Tom Sakash at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash