Swanson and Wolk Look To Pull Back on Water

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In a sweeping proposal released on Wednesday, ahead of the December 6 meeting that will address the issue of the referendum that qualified for the ballot last month, Mayor Pro Tem Rochelle Swanson and Councilmember Dan Wolk are bringing back their motion from the September 6 meeting, with some critical revisions.

“It is clear a significant portion of the community needs more information as reflected in the referendum, as well as the number of protest votes,” Mayor Pro Tem Rochelle Swanson said in a statement to the Vanguard on Wednesday.

“After prolonged discussions with the City Manager, I feel assured we can in fact take some time to institute the measures in the original motion I seconded on September 6. It was clear then, by the number of protests, that the community was requesting more information regarding an increase,” she added.

Their proposal calls for the rescinding of the ordinance that was passed on September 6, 2011.  Instead, they want to direct staff to bring back a one-year Prop 218 motion, based on the needs to cover current deferred maintenance and on-going needs rather than being based on the surface water project.

They would then direct city staff to return within nine months with a report on all options for funding a surface water project.  This could include a formal rate study, that the city never undertook when it launched its initial rate hikes.

At that time, they would also consider a full public vote for a long-term rate increase, in connection with the water project.

As Councilmember Wolk told the Vanguard, “For a number of reasons, I don’t believe putting the ordinance on the ballot is wise.  Instead, we need to work together to forge a better path forward on this issue.”

He said that was his intent on September 6 and “we need to try again at this one.”

At the same time, both Councilmembers Swanson and Wolk emphasized their continued commitment to the surface water project, long-term.

“I want to be clear, however, that I refuse to kick the can down the road on this issue.  Like every other member of this Council, I support moving toward surface water in the long term,” Councilmember Wolk told the Vanguard.

“As I’ve said before, my generation — and my children’s generation — bears the burden of a lack of long-term planning, unfunded liabilities and crumbling infrastructure, particularly in the area of water,” he added.  “But the buck stops here.  We must take the necessary steps toward securing a safe and reliable water supply.”

“I am committed to a long-term, sustainable water supply.  I still believe we need surface water and feel it is imperative to protect our water rights we have procured,” Mayor Pro Tem Swanson said. 

Nevertheless, both members of council, who will need to find at least one more vote in order to enact their plan, believe that this process has been divisive and that mistakes were made.

“As someone who has tirelessly worked to find a middle ground on this issue, I have been very disheartened by the divisive and acerbic nature of the debate surrounding it,” Mr. Wolk said.

“What has changed for me regarding Sept 6’s 218 is the assurance we can take a brief pause and get the community and ourselves even better engaged and informed,” Ms. Swanson told the Vanguard.

“I still believe the one year increase would have been a better path,” she said. “As I stated then, I felt the tier structure was regressive and confusing and planned to request a new 218 to put into effect an improved rate structure, hence my agreement, though reticent, to approve 5 years.”

Their proposal includes recommendations that the council revisit rates every twelve months to vote on whether to lower them.

It continues with the technical advisory committee appointed by the City Council to review the project, bid process, bond terms and any other financial matter related to the construction and operation of the water project—in progress.

It ensures that all significant decisions by the JPA be brought before the council for discussion and possible consideration and approval.

Their proposal seeks to analyze and make recommendations on the possibility of incorporating a public operation into the project.

They also seek flexibility on the timelines for the project and raising capital, including requesting the assistance of the city’s legislative delegation, with the goal of stretching out the rate schedule. This includes seeking a variance, if possible.

They will seek guarantees to ensure that the project will use only local and regional businesses and labor, to the maximum extent feasible.

They will also look for federal and state funding, including state water bonds and potential delta restoration dollars directed toward the Yolo Bypass.

In addition to the city’s current conservation efforts, their proposal seeks to access state and federal funds, if feasible, to offset the costs to residents of implementing water conservation strategies or replacing equipment.

Finally, they will continue to explore the creation of rate-subsidy programs for low-income households.

Councilmembers Swanson and Wolk told the Vanguard that the purpose of putting this proposal forward now is that they seek public input and seek to gauge the public’s response to these proposals.

As mentioned, they will need to find a third vote to move their proposal forward.  Right now, there appear to be three different blocs on council, with Mayor Joe Krovoza and Councilmember Souza, both representatives on the JPA, having originally put forward the current rate structure that was passed on September 6, and with Sue Greenwald opposing the water project and hoping to postpone it a number of years.

This proposal clearly represents a middle ground.  The councilmembers recognized that the current rates that were passed were unacceptable, while at the same time supporting the project.

“I now feel more comfortable that we can take some more time,” Councilmember Swanson said. “However, I do not believe we can prolong this endeavor and kick this can further down the road to future councils and future generations.”

Councilmember Wolk added, “Water is one of the most important factors to our community’s future.  It demands that kind of conversation.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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30 thoughts on “Swanson and Wolk Look To Pull Back on Water”

  1. davisite2

    The proposals put forward by Wolk and Swanson are a very good start. It appears highly unlikely that adequate studies and full information that they want to gather can be done in 9 months. I would add two additional items to their proposal: an independent study of Davis aquifer systems as to probable rate of depletion and longevity. This has never been done,purposefully,IMO, as the Saylor Council Majority and Weir’s Dept of Public Works attempted to ram through this project. The citizen advisory board also must contain members who are neutral and raise questions based upon a measure of intellectual skepticism to the “factual” narrative that is presented to them for review. Only this will satisfy the requirement for transparency . It would also greatly enhance the acceptance of the JPA by Davis voters if Sue Greenwald replaced one of the current Davis members. All significant decisions of the JPA must be brought before the full Council for consideration and approval.

  2. davisite2

    At the least, any decisions on funding for this project should be put off for at least 2 years as the outcome of the presidential and congressional 2012 elections could dramatically change the “climate” as to Federal injection of money into infrastructure projects.

  3. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]“As someone who has tirelessly worked to find a middle ground on this issue, I have been very disheartened by the divisive and acerbic nature of the debate surrounding it,” Mr. Wolk said.[/quote]

    Amen!

    The Da Vinci High School gave a nice presentation on the water issue last night…

  4. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]At the least, any decisions on funding for this project should be put off for at least 2 years as the outcome of the presidential and congressional 2012 elections could dramatically change the “climate” as to Federal injection of money into infrastructure projects.[/quote]

    What makes you think that, in light of the huge federal deficit that is reaching critical mass?

  5. Frankly

    Rochelle Swanson: [i]It was clear then, by the number of protests, that the community was requesting more information regarding an increase,” she added.”[/i]

    Read: “Because of trouble-makers spreading lies and enflaming uninformed voters, we have to take the time to calm everybody down so we can go forward with the surface water project without so many political consequences.”

  6. rusty49

    “Rochelle Swanson: It was clear then, by the number of protests, that the community was requesting more information regarding an increase,” she added.”

    Read: “Because of trouble-makers spreading lies and enflaming uninformed voters, we have to take the time to calm everybody down so we can go forward with the surface water project without so many political consequences.”

    Jeff my buddy, another read might be: Because we tried to cram this project through without really looking at all the alternatives and also with the unclear rate raises we tried to introduce we now have to take the time to calm everybody down so we can go forward with the surface water project without so many political consequences.

  7. davisite2

    “What makes you think that, in light of the huge federal deficit that is reaching critical mass?”

    With the ECB, European Central Banks deciding that massive “liquidity”(read printing money) must be injected into the EU, China reversing course and now pushing to lower its interest rates to stimulate growth(read the Yuan will remain “cheap”), it is inevitable,0IMO, that after the 2012 election, the US will follow suit

  8. Frankly

    rusty, That is certainly another way to look at it.

    My business partner is a “dot I’s and cross T’s” kind of guy. I am generally pushing to him for us to make decisions once I feel I have enough information. One thing I tell him to help him overcome his tendency for risk aversion is that delaying or stalling a decision IS also a decision… that there are consequences and risks in stalling or delaying too.

    From my perspective, the voters are plenty informed about the rate increases. However, they are not informed about the risks for future costs should we delay or stall our water system upgrades. But, most people are not very good at delayed gratifiaction and envisioning a future state. They may vote to keep their rates low even if this means a bigger hit in the future… just like they will eat the second piece of cake even though they know it isn’t good for their future health.

    This is why we need leadership in a representative style of government and why pure democracy and populist-style politicing do not work in the long run. Even our most-educated-city-in-the-world, armed with all the information they can handle, runs the risk of making a decision to kick the expense can down the road.

    That worries me.

  9. Rifkin

    For the record, today, December 1, is the first day the rate increase passed in September goes into effect.

    Last month, the base rate charge was $11.50 for every single family home. Now that rate is $14.80 per month ([url]http://cityofdavis.org/pw/water/prop218/services.cfm[/url]), regardless of usage. The percentage increase is 28.7%, which is more than double the 14% rate increase that was sold to us.

    Unless the Harrington referendum passes or the Wolk-Swanson Act of 2011 becomes law, the base water rate will increase to $326.40 per year for every house in Davis in 4 years. That is 2.36 times as much as we were paying per year as of yesterday.

    Keep in mind that the base rate increases are in addition to the substantial metered rate increases.

  10. Michael Harrington

    Interesting. I have to study the proposal and check with the referendum leadership.

    The referendum is not the “Harrington Referendum.”

    It is the “Committee to Confirm the Rights of Davis Voters to Vote on These Huge Rate Hikes” Referendum.

    The idea was conceived and launched by Ernie Head, one of the greatest and most honorable persons I have ever had the pleasure of working with, both while as a Member of the Davis City Council, and more lately on this specific project.

    We should all be extremely grateful to him for pushing this through to the great benefit of Davis raterpapers and voters. He deserves honor and appreciation from all of us as a true patriot who early on saw the wisdom of ensuring that Davis voters had the option of the referendum process.

  11. Ryan Kelly

    [quote]“I would add two additional items to their proposal: an independent study of Davis aquifer systems as to probable rate of depletion and longevity.”[/quote]

    And how would this be paid for? And which company would be considered “independent” enough?

    Please remember, that it isn’t about rates increasing. Opposition stems from a desire to stop all future development at any cost. Cut off funding for any form of river water project to keep the argument our water system not being able to accommodate development. Michael Harrington was quoted in The Enterprise as saying that he wouldn’t be happy unless the Council stated that not one dime be spent on the river water project – only allowing money to be spent (including increases in rates) on maintenance and repair of the current system.

  12. Sue Greenwald

    @Jeff Boone: On the topic of “lies and troublemakers”, I heartily agree that the discussion should remain fact based.

    In that regard, it turns out that meeting our selenium limits will not be a problem, as I have been maintaining for some time, and we will not have to pump more deep aquifer water than already planned in order to meet the requirements.

  13. Adam Smith

    [i]The referendum is not the “Harrington Referendum.” [/i]

    Sorry, Michael this will likely always be known as the Harrington Referendum, and for better or worse, you will be tarred with its outcome.

    [i]In that regard, it turns out that meeting our selenium limits will not be a problem, as I have been maintaining for some time, and we will not have to pump more deep aquifer water than already planned in order to meet the requirements. [/i]

    That is great news – hopefully, you will share and identify the source of your information with us so that we can come to the same conclusion.

  14. Don Shor

    Sue: [i]In that regard, it turns out that meeting our selenium limits will not be a problem, as I have been maintaining for some time, and we will not have to pump more deep aquifer water than already planned in order to meet the requirements. [/i]

    Please explain what new information you have in this regard.

    I agree that the proposal by Dan and Rochelle is well-considered and worthy of support.

  15. Sue Greenwald

    It is basically the same information regarding selenium that I have explained previously Don, but I will be able to get you confirmation that will satisfy you.

    I will outline the facts again later tonight or tomorrow when I have more time.

  16. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]One thing I tell him to help him overcome his tendency for risk aversion is that delaying or stalling a decision IS also a decision… that there are consequences and risks in stalling or delaying too. [/quote]

    Excellent point – the failure to tap into Lake Berryessa comes to mind…

  17. Adrienne Kandel

    Elaine, please tell us what happened with Lake Beryessa.
    Other questions for whoever knows answers:
    1. Why would we be happy about drinking selenium if it turns out to meet a discharge standard? Do we trust that standard to protect our health?
    2. What will we do about the chromium 6 we’re drinking and showering in? I think it’s more in the East Davis wells, where I live.
    3. Is it true the current water project plan involves private contractors not just building the project but owning the project? Does not being a charter city force us into this type of arrangement? (I know it limits our contracting options to particular state procedures, and this I think eliminated some cost saving opportunities.)
    5. What is the cost of the water treatment upgrade that will be required of us if we continue using groundwater? I understood that to be at least as pricey as the water project — are these estimates changing?
    6. If we treat wastewater salts and remove them from the water we discharge, how do we deal with them? Build a pipe all the way to the Caraquinez Straits, and maintain it? Dry the salts carefully (to not blow over the land) and then truck them to the ocean?
    7. How do we get people to stop putting sodium in our water to soften it in their homes while we keep depending on very hard water?
    8. Why should we not be concerned that climate change which will lessen snowpack will ultimately decrease our current water supply? Do our aquifers all depend on rainfall and none on snow? Are those rainfall expectations robust to climate change?

  18. Adrienne Kandel

    To be clear, in question 3 that’s “Does not-being a charter city”, not ” Does-not being a charter city”. We’re not a charter city and I think I recall from my NRC days that meant we couldn’t use one approach someone had suggested that might considerable money relative to the project we were doing.

  19. Sue Greenwald

    [quote]with Sue Greenwald opposing the water project and hoping to postpone it a number of years.–[b]David Greenwald[/b][/quote]David, I am not opposed to the project. I think that the financial burden of proceeding with about $300 million worth of water-related capital improvement projects simultaneously is an extraordinarily high fiscal burden for a city of only 65,000 and that it would probably be wiser to phase the projects in. I am not opposed to the project at all. Far from it. If we didn’t have to build a new $100 million wastewater treatment plant now, I would be in favor of proceeding. My only concern is total debt burden per household.

  20. Sue Greenwald

    @Adrienne Kandel: Some people are worried about constituents in surface water, others are worried about constituents in groundwater. I have been told that Chromium 6 can be treated. Selenium is an essential mineral. Some people pay for selenium supplements. Personally, I am more worried about surface water quality, but I recognize that people differ as to their worries.

  21. Don Shor

    1. The issue with selenium is bioaccumulation in the delta affecting various species. In fact, most of the issues driving this water debate involve pollution of the delta with our discharge water. At the levels we have it in our water it is considered safe for human consumption.
    3. Private contractors would operate, not own, the project.
    7. Some cities have successfully banned water softeners.
    8. Our aquifers depend on rainfall. The best model I saw regarding climate change and California watersheds (several years ago, and I don’t have the link, but it was quite detailed) showed increased precipitation in our watershed. Also, overall more water would fall on the Sierra as rain than as snow. So spring runoff would be higher, summer runoff would be lower. Those changes could possibly be mitigated by storing water and by water transfers. Also, the groundwater would still be available for emergencies such as occurred in the 1976-7 rainfall season.

    Matt Williams has information regarding your question #5.

  22. medwoman

    Michael Harrington

    “We should all be extremely grateful to him for pushing this through to the great benefit of Davis raterpapers and voters. He deserves honor and appreciation from all of us as a true patriot who early on saw the wisdom of ensuring that Davis voters had the option of the referendum process.

    None of what I am about to write is meant in any way to disparage the accomplishments, integrity, or good intentions of Mr. Head, with whom I am not acquainted. My points are addressed solely to your approach to this issue.

    1) It is far too soon to know whether this referendum is a “great benefit” or a great waste of time, energy and public money wasted by blocking a needed program. Only time will tell on that.
    2) I am once again seeing fact based discussion being posted by others such as Don Shor and promised shortly be Sue Greenwald. I have yet to see any fact based discussion offered by you.
    3) what I frequently see in your posts is attempted demonization of those who disagree with you ( name calling as in “liars” and “fraud” in previous posts). Now in this post we see the glorification of someone with whom you agree, Mr. Head. While indeed he may be “great and honorable” I fail to see how being a “great patriot” has anything to do with being concerned about the cost of local water projects. Nor do I see how “being a great patriot” makes one objectively correct on any given issue.

    Your tendency to use only hyperbole and unsubstantiated opinions is what has led me to doubt the validity of your position.
    On a previous thread, I had asked you to reconcile some seeming discrepancies in your thought processes. I did not see a response to my enquiry ( I may have missed it when that thread dropped off the main page). So, I will ask again.
    1) You have stated repeatedly that you want the City of Davis to own and run any water project exclusively. You have also stated that you distrust city staff and the CC in fact accusing them of lying and fraud. How do you reconcile not trusting the city to choose a project and set rates to finance it, but you trust only these same folks to build and run it ?
    2) You have said repeatedly that we should “trust the voters” presumably in the referendum. and yet I feel that I have already voted twice on this issue. Once when I cast my vote for CC members and again when I placed my protest ballot in the recycle. It appears to me that you do not trust, or respect, my well reasoned votes. Could it be that you only trust the voters when they happen to agree with you?
    3) You have written many times about the city council trying to “ram this project through” without due consideration. And yet many who post here who seem very knowledgeable about the water issues on both sides have commented that this issue has been ongoing for at least 10 years.
    That is hardly what I would call stealthily ramming something through. An act which you do not seem to find objectionable when done by those on your side of the issue as you stated in your comment about the gratitude owed Mr. Head ” for pushing this through”.

    I would therefore again invite you to clarify the seeming discrepancies in your positions and perhaps present some fact based information to support your opinions.

  23. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]Elaine, please tell us what happened with Lake Beryessa. [/quote]

    From the city of Davis website:
    [quote]Why did the Woodland Davis Clean Water Agency choose Sacramento River water instead of water from Lake Berryessa?
    Water from Lake Berryessa water was only available in the 1950s and 1960s, and at that time the City chose not to participate in water rights acquisition. Water from Lake Berryessa is fully allocated and is no longer an option for the City of Davis.[/quote]

    To medwoman: Excellent questions!

  24. medwoman

    What a missed opportunity with regard to the failure to acquire rights to Lake Berryessa water ! I only hope that we are not making a similar short sighted judgement error in stalling and or blocking the surface water project.

  25. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]What a missed opportunity with regard to the failure to acquire rights to Lake Berryessa water ! I only hope that we are not making a similar short sighted judgement error in stalling and or blocking the surface water project.[/quote]

    My thoughts exactly!

  26. Sue Greenwald

    Here is the story on selenium (basically the explanation I have been giving for some time, but staff is finally looking at the real figures as well).

    I will be using selenium measurements as the waste stream enters the treatment plant, rather than the end point because our new treatment plant will not be removing as much selenium as our existing plant, so we need to control for that fact.

    First, it is important to understand that when water usage is lower, we don’t draw as much water from the shallower wells. Thus in the winter when our water usage is lower our selenium at inflow is well within limits.

    The highest selenium inflow into the wastewater treatment plant has been 5.6 ppb, and it is in the summer when our water usage is high. Our limit is 4.4 ppb. Again, in the winter we are comfortably in compliance.
    We have two new deep wells in the works. One is completed and just about ready to use. These two new deeper wells alone will probably bring is into compliance in the summer (and decrease water hardness as well from a consumer satisfaction perspective).

    In addition to this, the city has been assuming a 20% decrease in water use as rates increase (or conservation rates are adopted if the surface water project is postponed). Most of this will be summer irrigation water. So that also will mean less shallow, high selenium well use in the summer which, again, is the only period we are out of compliance.

    Finally, we are replumbing some of the shallow aquifer well water for city landscaping use, which will add even further dilution of the selenium.

    In summary, we have already planned for three separate, significant changes that will increase our selenium dilution in the summer, which is the only time it is out of compliance. The two new wells alone will probably handle the problem, but also are expecting a 20% decrease in (shallow aquifer) use and repiping some high-selenium shallow aquifer water for city landscaping use.

  27. Sue Greenwald

    [quote]What a missed opportunity with regard to the failure to acquire rights to Lake Berryessa water ! I only hope that we are not making a similar short sighted judgement error in stalling and or blocking the surface water project.– [b]Med Woman[/b][/quote]The missed opportunity concerning Berryessa water involved not getting water rights to the Berryessa project. That was unfortunate, because I have been told the water is a whole lot higher quality than the Sacramento river water at the point that we will be taking it.

    However, we have already avoided making a similar mistake again, because we have already procured our rights to the Sacramento River water and these rights a good for at least forty years.

  28. Don Shor

    Sue, whether those two wells alone will be sufficient to bring summer discharge into compliance on selenium would depend on whether those two wells are going to [i]replace[/i] the 12 wells that are high in selenium, or [i]mix[/i] with that water.
    It also depends on what percent of capacity you are assuming they will be running at. The deep wells generally run at about 60% of capacity. How many gpm are you assuming those two wells will provide? Our high selenium wells constitute over 50% of our current water supply. I would be curious who in the city has given you assurances that we could run two wells at sufficient capacity to replace more than 50% of our water supply. Or, if not that, how many of the existing wells would be retired and which ones. The current status of our wells is very troublesome between the selenium, age, and distribution problems.
    It also assumes that our selenium level will not be lowered in the next discharge permit. Woodland’s is 3.2 on a newer permit.
    The amount being replumbed to landscape use by the city is pretty trivial at about 5%, though every little bit helps.

  29. medwoman

    Sue

    I understand your point about having already procured the Sacramento River water rights. I was referring to the unsettled issue of the surface water project, and hoping that we are not missing an opportunity to effect needed change as economically and efficiently as possible by continuing to delay. As always I appreciate the informative nature of your posts and your adherence to an information based discussion.

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