By E. Roberts Musser
Reasons to do this project sooner rather than later:
Every expert willing to speak publicly seems to agree we need the surface water project sooner rather than later. All the Davis and Woodland City Council members agree we do need the surface water project.
Construction/finance costs for the project are probably cheapest right now because the costs of lending are at record lows; as the economy improves, these costs are likely to increase.
Our deep level aquifers are probably going to be insufficient for the city’s future needs, because of subsidence/contamination problems. Experts have publicly indicated this.
Fines by the SWRCB for noncompliance with the new water quality standards are mandatory not discretionary. A representative from the SWRCB has publicly stated the fines will be steep enough so the city will not benefit financially for noncompliance.
Pushed by a citizen advisory committee, water rate increases over the next five years in Davis were reduced from 3.3 times the current rate to two times the current rate, by: delaying some components of the surface water project; assuming finance costs are as advantageous as they currently seem to be; and using some of the financing already collected for the wastewater treatment plant upgrade and putting it towards the surface water project.
A citizen oversight committee will be formed to: ensure costs of the project are kept to a minimum; and look at various other citizen issues of concern.
Water conservation will help keep down costs because: those who can afford the water rate increases may not bother conserving; many businesses and landlords do not have the ability to conserve water because of the nature of their business; water conservation should help keep costs down on the wastewater treatment plant upgrade.
Moving forward with the surface water project is the environmentally responsible thing to do.
Responses to those who have advocated to significantly delay/kill the surface water project using various questionable rationales:
- The Prop 218 process was undemocratic.
- The Prop 218 process was legally required by CA statute to be implemented by every city who proposes to raise any utility rate.
- The referendum process is “undemocratic”, in the sense that: not all ratepayers will be able to vote on the referendum; some voters who are not ratepayers will be able to vote on the referendum.
- The project can be delayed for 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 years.
- Variances can only be had for a maximum of 10 years.
- It is highly unlikely water quality standards are going to become less stringent in the future. It is far likelier water quality standards will become more stringent.
- To obtain a variance, the city of Davis would have to argue it is “economically infeasible” to move forward with the surface water project, which would not be a very convincing argument – when Woodland moves forward with the surface water project on its own, as it has said it is going to do if Davis won’t come along.
- Unnamed sources are saying the surface water project should be delayed until the wastewater treatment plant is paid off.
- Two UCD experts already consulted agree the surface water project should be built first and foremost, without delay. One of those same experts reiterated this opinion in a recent op-ed article in the Davis Enterprise.
- Other experts in various reports have also taken the same viewpoint as the two UCD experts.
- Not a single expert has come forward publicly to say the surface water project should be delayed.
- The fines imposed by SWRCB will be cheaper to pay than implementing the surface water project.
- The SWRCB has publicly declared that stiff fines may be imposed if the city fails to come into compliance with the new water quality standards. According to a representative of the SWRCB, the idea behind the fines is to ensure a city gains nothing financially from its failure to comply with the new water quality standards.
- If the city is thus fined steeply enough that there will be no financial gain from not doing the surface water project, then the city will be paying the same price as if it had moved forward with the surface water project – but have nothing to show for it.
- Woodland is already paying fines, despite making efforts to come into compliance with water quality standards by approving the surface water project, which is a pretty good indication the SWRCB means business.
- Delaying the surface water project will not cause it to be any more expensive.
- The savings on the wastewater treatment plant upgrade are predicated on building the surface water project first and foremost, according to UCD experts who have spoken publicly on this issue.
- It is very likely as the economy improves, construction/finance costs will increase, making the delayed surface water project considerably more expensive in the future.
- As our mid-level wells fail from subsidence/contamination, more deep level aquifer wells will have to be drilled, tacking millions onto the costs of a delayed surface water project.
- Any fines that are incurred for a failure to come into compliance with the new water quality standards must be added as costs of delaying the surface water project.
- Costs of maintenance of the current inadequate and crumbling system the city has now will also have to be factored in as an additional cost of delaying the surface water project.
- A more expensive delayed surface water project again “kicks the can down the road” for future ratepayers; and misses yet another opportunity to gain a reliable source of water at a cheaper cost.
- We need to delay the surface water project to make sure the school and city taxes are approved by voters.
- A costlier delayed surface water project will ultimately mean citizens will have less money available to pay for school and city taxes.
- School and city taxes arise frequently (as little as every 2 years), so will be always be in competition with the surface water project whether it is built now, or in 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 or 30 years from now.
- A reliable source of water is critical to survival. Citizens, including students, cannot survive without water.
- Each tax needs to stand on its own merits, rather than pitting one against the other. The city needs a reliable source of water; and its schools; and its parks.
- Woodland will not be able to pay its fair share for the surface water project.
- Woodland is ahead of Davis increasing its water rates. It ramped up its water rate increases for the past 3 years, approving year four rate increases.
- Woodland has publicly stated it will go it alone if necessary, because it is already being fined for a failure to come into compliance with the new water quality standards.
- Woodland is concerned Davis will not be willing to pay its fair share.
- There will be huge water rate increases after year 5.
- After year 5, the city must implement a Prop 218 notice and allow rate payers to approve any increases. Another referendum process is also possible.
- No new increases are permitted unless approved by citizens.
- There are going to be huge cost overruns.
- A citizen advisory committee will be formed, to keep such costs in check.
- Citizens can refuse to pay for any cost overruns through the Prop 218 process and/or a referendum.
- The cost overruns are more likely to occur if the surface water project is delayed.
- Developers are supporting the surface water project to increase their ability to make profits from more development.
- Even those proposing delay of this project have conceded the surface water project is necessary.
- The current water system is crumbling into disrepair, and cannot be maintained for very long. The city has already had to close contaminated wells.
- The primary reasons for this project is to avoid fines for a failure to come into compliance with new water quality standards; to make sure the City has a reliable source of water which is now clearly inadequate for long term use, especially in the summer or times of drought. This would be true whether or not there is any new development or not.
- Measure R is already in place to control growth of new development.
The following adages come to mind in support of doing the surface water project sooner rather than later:
- It would be “Pennywise and pound foolish” to delay the surface water project;
- “Pay me now or pay me later!” in regard to the surface water project, only later we are likely to be paying much more.
Lesson to be learned: Try and become as educated as possible on local issues.
Elaine Roberts Musser is an attorney who concentrates her efforts on elder law and aging issues, especially in regard to consumer affairs. If you have a comment or particular question or topic you would like to see addressed in this column, please make your observations at the end of this article in the comment section.