Water Issue: Can Council Stop This Runaway Locomotive?


In January of 2007, the Vanguard featured an article entitled: “Tracing the recent history of the water supply project.” In it, we argued that there was a series of decisions that changed the trajectory of water policy to become a far more expansive and more expensive project than the original course of action. The remarkable feature is that at no point was a decision actually made to proceed with this project. Instead, there were a series of staff recommendations approved by council to explore various options which lumped together became a decision.

This is very important in trying to understand where we are right now. There is a basic inertial quality to this issue that is rather remarkable. There are basically two forces driving the process, neither of which are necessarily council approval. First, the concern that we will lose our place in line. Second, the concern that down the line the costs of construction will increase if we delay now. The result I think is that at this point the water project has moved far further than where the council actually stands on this issue. The council has never made key decisions.

What we are seeing now is a realization both by the council and the public that the cost of this project is increasingly becoming problematic. As the public is slowly awakening from its slumber on this issue, the sobering fact has awakened it that this project means as much as $200 per month hikes in water costs. The city has already gotten a glimpse of what that might look like when they did something as simple as change the methodology for assessing the sewer rates for some a small group of people, that meant a huge increase in their sewer bill–something that was limited and temporary caused an uproar. What will a massive hike to people’s monthly water rates do?

We see these countervailing inertial forces at work on Tuesday during the water discussion. Council really was trying to put the brakes on the project a little bit and try to explore alternative means to accomplish water changes. For instance, the city is looking for an extension before they begin getting fined for having water outflow that does not meet quality standards. Currently the city has until 2015, in February the Regional Water Quality Control Board will discuss granting Davis an extension of two years.

The board was torn on Tuesday night as to whether to have an independent firm for value engineering of the Preliminary Design for Secondary replacement project. Council was leery of the added cost and wanted to look at other alternatives. In fact, they will look at other alternatives concurrent with the value engineering.

The basic argument that prevailed once again was the issue that if we do not do this now, it throws off our timetable and may increase our costs. The costs of the independent firm not withstanding.

There were two basic viewpoints raised at the council meeting. Councilmember Sue Greenwald repeatedly asked what the rush was here. On the other hand, Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor suggested that the council’s questions and alternative suggestions have already been asked and explored.

In the middle was Mayor Ruth Asmundson concerned about two types of costs, the first the cost of the value engineering firm and second the cost of delay. The cost of delay won out for now. Councilmember Stephen Souza was also in the middle, his compromise was for the council to take a field trip to look at how other communities do this, while at the same time continuing forward.

The breaking point for this project will be when either Mayor Asmundson or Councilmember Souza become concerned enough with the costs that they can pull away from the inertial pull that this project has been taking. They came closer on Tuesday than they have in the past, but city staff was still able to push the project forward with the warning about increased costs and place in line.

The city desperately needs a paradigm shift here. There needs to be some alternative that can come forward. They also have to weigh the magnitude of the fines compared with the cost of repair.

However, we are beginning to see a shift. Council is recognizing that this is cost prohibitive and that the public will likely balk at it when it becomes clear to them just how much this will cost. The question remains whether they can stop this train before it runs off the tracks.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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8 thoughts on “Water Issue: Can Council Stop This Runaway Locomotive?”

  1. Worried

    If sewer rate increases are as astronomical as they have been recently, how can citizens afford an even larger water rate increase as well? Especially senior citizens, who are often on a fixed income.

  2. Mike Hart

    I think the logic goes something like this- the state wants to improve the quality of our outflow from the water treatment plant. Something to do with saving the Yolo Mucksucking Mollusk. Or not. In any case, rather than tell the officious pricks from Sacramento what they can do with their standards, we choose to comply.Now one key problem in Davis is that our incoming water sucks. It really really sucks. It is lousy with minerals (not the good kind, so many people use water softeners etc. As a result, the water flowing to the water treatment plant is very high in dissolved salts. Water softeners are just giant salt dispensers… So, one possible solution is to have the incoming water improved by using more soft water, such as water from the Sacramento River, which would obviate the need for water softeners and improve the quality of our sewage.The problem is that NO ONE is linking these two concepts, and no one is spending any money on lobbyists to simply tell the clowns from Sacto to go back to harassing farmers and counting beetles. No, instead we have two projects of significant scope being discussed without decision. I would suggest that we do three things:1) Hire a frightening lobbyist to simply exempt our very successful water treatment plant from further harassment from the state.2) Look into the reduced need for improving our outflow if our inflow is substantially improved.3) Look into a ground-breaking project of having our outflow from the sewer treatment plant piped BACK to Davis for landscaping etc. and tell the state to shove it. This would significantly reduce our water requirements.In any case, this has grown beyond two staff …honey do’s… into a significant capital investment and should be considered carefully before we go rushing after anything.

  3. Black Bart

    You guys are so far behind the curve. If there were any smarts the council would be lining up the city with both hands out for the Obama stimulus plan to solve Davis’ water issues.

  4. FastFwed

    Mike Hart–ALL of it well said…Thanks for posting. You did forget to mention the lunacy of our super-clean water(outflow) into the bypass where millions of birds crap in the same water!! Talk about good money down a rat hole!

  5. From the source

    …First, the concern that we will lose our place in line…….inside information from the controlling State agency : Davis will not be able to significantly benefit from Sacramento River water. Davis’ place at the back of the line will be compounded by legislative-mandated future reductions in Sacramento River water diversion.

  6. Sue Greenwald

    The main point for me was that the council kept talking about the ‘costs… of waiting, after it has become clear that the regional water board is interested in an extension. In the past, the …cost of waiting… always referred to expectations of construction cost increases. But we are now in a deflationary period, so, as I pointed out at the meeting, there is more likely to be a cost accrued to doing it early.The usual council majority did not see it that way. To me, we are risking virtually throwing away $100,000 of ratepayer money, since we are paying for detailed value engineering for a project that might be completely changed by the time it is undertaken.

  7. Mikes hooey

    Mike Hart shows an obvious lack of knowledge on this issue, and distain for the environment. Trying to convince people that environmental protection is not a worthy goal, by referring to a ‘mudsucking mollusk’ or telling people to ‘count beetles’, is an attempt at misdirection. Environmental protection is a very important goal, and trying to set up straw men to rant against, as if some ‘lowly’ creature is the cause of our problem, rather than one of our own making, shows your conservativism.You would most likely take the Bush approach to environmental pollution, which is to simple declare somthing ‘clean’ rather that fix the pollution.Increased salt levels in our water has an effect not just on wildlife, but on crop production as well. This is an issue of food security as well as environmental protection.Your rant is on par with those global warming ‘skeptics’ who say that since it is cold outside, there mustn’t be such a thing.

  8. Anonymous

    Mike hoohey:You complain that Mike Hart rants ……some ‘lowly’ creature is the cause of our problem…, but then rant about ……Bush approach to environmental pollution….Both of you blaming a lowly creatures does not make a right, does it?Is this a classic… do as I, the friend of the the environment, says and not as I do?

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