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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Davis Residents Face Double-Whammy of Water Rate Hikes in Coming Decade

The Davis City Council held a public meeting last Tuesday to discuss a planned rate increase for both water and sewage rates. The public had an opportunity to come out and protest these rate hikes--a few did, but not in sufficient numbers to warrant any additional action by the city council.

As a result the rate for Davis residents will rise merely for the new sewage system by at least 7 to 8 percent per year for the next 10 years--or double the projected rate of inflation.

Davis Public Works Director Bob Weir projected that these rates would end up costing the average single-family residence at least $102 per month in utilities.

The upgrade in the sewage system is necessitated by changes in state and federal laws regarding wastewater outflow. These laws currently place the city out of compliance in terms of organic and particulate matter in the water discharge.

In the meantime these rate hikes are just the tip of the iceberg for Davis residents. The other half of the story is the Davis-Woodland Water Supply Project.

This project as we have discussed previously is a $300-$450 million project.

According to the water supply page:
"The partners are pursuing this project to secure a new, high-quality surface water supply from the Sacramento River. Currently, groundwater serves as the sole supply of water for the partners. A new, treated surface water source is needed to improve water quality for Woodland, Davis and UC Davis to meet future wastewater discharge requirements. The partners also want to ensure that an adequate and diversified future water supply is available."
The project is currently in the environmental documentation phase, and Draft EIR has been prepared and available for review for a 50-day period ending May 31. Any public willing to submit comments may do so at the May 16, 2007 Davis City Council Meeting.

The project relies on a diversion of water from the Sacramento River, it will then be piped into an intake water treatment plant and connected with the cities. It has three primary goals: (1) "Provide a reliable water supply to meet existing and future needs;" (2) "improve water quality for drinking water purposes;" and (3) "improve the quality of treated wastewater effluent discharged by the Project Partners."

According to the EIR, there will be up to 46.1 thousand acre feet of water per year from the river for water use.

They argue that there will be no significant impact on fish, aquatic resources, and habitats, hydrology, or water quality in the Sacramento River or downstream delta. That may be accurate on the basis simply of the impact of this specific project's usage, but the broader concern would have to be the stress on this system as more and more community scramble to gain control over water from the Sacramento River in lieu of pending water shortages and changes in the climate due to global warming. Any one project's impact may be low, but it would be interesting to see what the combined or overall impact might be.

They argue that there will be short-term construction impacts such as dust and noise. However, they do not discuss the impact of building the pipeline across those miles of habitat.

Summer water purchases will not result in significant environmental impacts, however, as the presentation earlier this year suggested, there is likely not going to be water available to Davis during the summer months anyway. So it is unsurprising that the summer water purchases would not result in significant environmental impacts.

While I am far from a water expert, it seems to me that this EIR is inadequate. During the public meetings and workshop earlier this year, Mayor Greenwald suggested we have an independent agency and experts examine the water project for necessity. According to the EIR, the City of Davis is the lead agency for complying with the CEQA act. As I suggest, there seem to be a number of issues that are simply not addressed adequately in the report.

The key questions I have continue to have are the overall impact of a delicate ecological system of the delta. This EIR looked only at the impact of this particular project on the delta rather than any sort of cumulative impact. Second, would be the issue of availability of water.

As discussed previously, the main argument for proceeding with this project now is to gain a foothold on Davis' share of water from the Sacramento River before other communities that will likely jump on board. The problem with that viewpoint is that if there actually becomes a crisis, there is no guarantee we would be able to retain those water rights.

The final problem with the water supply issue that we are planning for urban growth for a city of 100,000 people within the next 40 years. A realistic view of the resources in California coupled with expected climate change, simply does not support those kind of population growths in this part of the state where water is seasonal and increasingly unreliable.

It would be nice if other alternatives for water supply would have been more thoroughly explored during the recent process, but that does not seem to be a priority.

In the meantime, the city of Davis is looking to embark on two very expensive projects and those on fixed incomes will take a huge hit. That means seniors and other people least able to handle increased costs of living will be the first to feel its impacts. The city needs to seriously examine how they structure these rates--right now they are proposing flat rates, which would be devastating to low income and fixed income people. That should be a top priority in rate structuring.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting