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Bob Dunning

Bob Dunning: When the bill keeps going up and up

By From page A2 | August 24, 2014

It used to be if you wanted to save money on your water bill, you would cut back on your water usage and be richly rewarded when the next bill arrived.

That age-old truism is now standing on its head with what the City of Davis gently refers to as a “Water Shortage Surcharge.” From here on out, the less water you use, the more you will pay for a gallon of water. In some cases, substantially more.

This troubling turn of events is no surprise to folks who have been paying close attention to our city’s longstanding water debate. Put simply, the city needs a fixed amount of revenue every month to service the massive fixed debt for the surface water project.

The city has to pay these costs, even if every single resident of Davis moves to Palm Springs for a year and doesn’t use even one drop of water during that time.

The city, under its newly instituted “The Buck Stops Over There” policy, is blaming the folks in Sacramento. Specifically, the guy at the top of the political food chain.

Writes the city in explaining the “Water Shortage Surcharge,” and its implications for the residents of this fine town: “Due to continuing multi-year drought conditions in California, on January 17, 2014, Governor Jerry Brown declared a State of Emergency and directed state officials to take all actions necessary to prepare for existing drought conditions and their impact on water supplies in California.”

And never mind that despite the drought conditions, California farmers are once again reporting record crops and shipping most of the bounty elsewhere.

Adds the city: “The amount of water available for consumption by customers can be affected by climatic and other environmental conditions, such as the current drought. In such instances, it may be necessary for the City to implement water conservation measures and to establish a surcharge on the rates (water shortage surcharge) for its water service fees.”

Again, the less you use, the more you pay. This is indeed the new normal.

“The City has developed a 4-stage water shortage contingency plan that may be invoked during declared water shortages. The plan includes voluntary and mandatory goals for reductions in water use, depending on the causes, severity, and anticipated duration of the water supply shortage.”

The Stage 1 goal is a 10 percent citywide reduction in water use, while Stage 2 shoots for a 20 percent reduction. Stage 3 is 30 percent and Stage 4, when Davis is finally annexed to Joshua Tree National Park, the goal is 50 percent.

The surcharge, which is applied to your metered water charge, doesn’t kick in until Stage 2. At that point, it’s an added 25 percent onto the charge for your metered water usage.

At Stage 3, the surcharge spikes dramatically to 43 percent and at Stage 4 — you’d better sit down and pour yourself a tall drink of something other than Davis water before reading further — the surcharge reaches a whopping 100 percent. This is on top of the more than tripling of our water rates from the current $1.50 per ccf to $5.01 per ccf on Jan. 1, 2019.

If you think $5.01 per ccf is highway robbery, just wait until it doubles to $10.02 per ccf during a Stage 4 surcharge.

Many folks, even some with those coveted “Ph.D.” initials behind their names, insist that if they reduce their consumption by 20 percent (Stage 2), 30 percent (Stage 3) or 50 percent (Stage 4), they will be immune from the surcharge. A little reward for their environmental responsibility, they assume.

Indeed, such thinking seems logical, but nothing could be further from the truth. The reality, again, is that the city has a very high fixed cost for the surface water project and it intends to pay for the project primarily through billing ratepayers for the amount of water they use.

Thus, if ratepayers dramatically decrease their water use, the amount they pay per gallon will have to dramatically increase. Simple math.

Those wishing for a do-over on this whole thing can move to the head of the class.

— Entries to the Contest to Replace the Above-Pictured Columnist are due on Monday, Sept. 8, at 5 p.m. Entries, between 400 and 800 words, can be emailed to [email protected] and should include a short biography and mug shot of the author.

Bob Dunning

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