With UC Davis’ announcement last week that it would join the Woodland-Davis surface water project, Davis’ water rates are once again up in the air.
The city’s water rate consultant, Bartle Wells, will determine the potential impact of the university’s contribution in time for a planned public hearing at the Davis City Council’s Sept. 16 meeting.
UCD will contribute $20 million to the project in return for 6 percent of the total water. An estimated 30 million gallons per day will be siphoned from the Sacramento River, treated and piped to Woodland, Davis and UC Davis.
The university’s share will be 1.8 million gallons per day, all coming from Davis’ allocation of 12 million gallons per day. Woodland will receive the other 18 million gallons per day.
UCD’s financial contribution is expected to reduce Davis’ costs by $11 million and Woodland’s by $1.2 million.
Herb Niederberger, general manager of utilities, development and operations for the city of Davis, warned that the university’s decision to join the water project would not necessarily lower Davis’ proposed water rates.
“When you take 11 million dollars and start stretching it, it might represent a dime less in your water bill,” Niederberger said. “It may or may not represent itself in a tangible rate decrease.”
The city will move forward with the planned Proposition 218 process for the water rates approved earlier this month by the Davis City Council. Those rates are composed of 13 percent for fixed charges and 87 percent for variable, gallon-by-gallon costs.
The new rates were necessitated by the passage of Measure P on June 3, an initiative that threw out Davis’ controversial consumption-based fixed rate structure.
Davis property owners will receive Prop. 218 pamphlets in the mail in early August, detailing the proposed rate structure. Those who object can send in their votes of protest; those who agree do not need to do anything. The results will be announced at the Sept. 16 meeting.
The university’s participation in the project will leave the city 1.8 million gallons per day short of the 12 million mgd that the Davis Water Advisory Committee recommended in 2012. However, the university’s demand peaks during the school year, when the city’s water needs typically fall. Summer is the peak usage time for Davis residents.
“We probably wouldn’t need it right away,” Niederberger said of the university’s share of the water.
The city has three opportunities to make up the potential water shortage:
* Switch park irrigation systems to non-potable water, which would ease demand on city drinking wells. This option already has been considered for three parks, but Niederberger said more could become involved;
* Increase aquifer storage and recovery — during winters, the city would pump surface water underground to increase deep water well reserves. The city has five deep wells, and has drilled but not equipped a sixth, Well 34; and
* Ask tenants of the proposed Davis innovation center, wherever it is built, to rely on purified wastewater instead of well or surface water. This is the least likely option, Niederberger said.
Additionally, the city could focus on expanding conservation efforts, reducing or removing entirely a need for the water used by the university. The city has not yet fully explored the financial costs of any of the mitigation options.
Construction already has begun on the water treatment plant in Woodland, and pipelines to Davis and the university will be installed next year. The project should provide surface water to all parties by September 2016.
After the Sept. 16 hearing, the water rates will be read again at the council’s Sept. 30 meeting, Niederberger said. If the council adopts the rates, they will take effect on Nov. 1.
— Reach Elizabeth Case at email@example.com or 530-747-8052. Follow her on Twitter at @elizabeth_case