By Lois Wolk
The Davis City Council and the Water Advisory Committee adopted a rate structure that complies with Proposition 218. The tiered rates for the next two years reflect the most common rate structure adopted by urban water agencies across the state. They are consistent with California law and practices in communities throughout the state that encourage conservation.
In 2008, the governor signed my bill (AB 2882) to allow a water rate system that encourages water conservation – “allocation-based” rates, also known as “water budget” rates. These rates allocate a reasonable amount of water to each property for indoor and outdoor use. If a homeowner uses more than his budget, he pays more to pay for all the extra costs to deliver most water. The Irvine Ranch Water District has used this type of rate for more than 20 years and has seen customer use decline to some of the lowest in the state.
My bill made certain that these water-budget rates complied with Proposition 218 requirements, such as “proportionality” where everyone pays their proportion of the costs of the water system. The bill was endorsed by Natural Resources Defense Council, Orange County Business Council and the League of Cities. It was bipartisan and passed both houses overwhelmingly.
Davis’ proposed rates for the following three years are also consistent with this state law. Those rates make certain that each homeowner pays for his/her proportion of the fixed costs. As conservation increases, then costs will decrease. This new rate approach resolves a problem that water agencies have long been struggling to address – how to pay for your fixed costs (the lion’s share) with variable or dropping payments.
Davis’ Proposition 218 rates are legal, consistent with the California Constitution and state law and worthy of our support.
The $34 monthly average we pay today is one of the lowest in the region and certainly across the state. The proposed increased to $84 will put us into the category with other cities that have chosen to stop mining their limited groundwater resource. These rates will provide cleaner, safer water in a truly cost-effective way by partnering with another city like us.
And there’s the additional benefit of doing our part to clean up the water that flows from our cities into the Yolo Bypass to the seriously compromised Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The rate increase will allow us to save what many of us now pay for bottled water and give longer life to our plumbing and the city’s mains and pipes.
Nobody likes to contemplate rate increases. And no rate structure will ever be seen as “fair” by every ratepayer. That’s unlikely. Our Water Advisory Committee and the City Council studied this thoroughly and have approved a rate structure for the first five years of the project that minimizes the increases on the greatest number of people. That’s fair. In five years, it can be re-evaluated and modified.
The most important issue isn’t the rates, but the project itself. I receive many letters each year from Davis residents supporting efforts to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and to stop depleting California’s oil and gas reserves. And I continue to author legislation to help by maximizing our use of renewable energy sources in every way possible.
The same approach must apply to our deep groundwater, also a precious limited resource. Davis and Woodland have continued to mine the groundwater irresponsibly for generations, using more and more electricity to pump and distribute less and less clean water.
We “clean” it with chemicals and use more electricity to pump from deeper and deeper wells. The water is poor quality and it wrecks our pipes and appliances. “Drill, baby, drill” is just as foolish and outdated a water policy as it is an energy policy.
The 21st century approach is to wean ourselves from groundwater dependency. That is precisely what Measure I will do. I hope this generation of Davis citizens will vote yes on Measure I.
Lois Wolk, a Davis resident, represents the 3rd District in the California Senate. She is a former member of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors and a former mayor of Davis.