Council Eschews Regional Approach on Wastewater, Arguing for Local Autonomy



The Davis City Council in considering their options on Tuesday night, voted 3-1, with Mayor Joe Krovoza dissenting and Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk absent, to stick with the local alternative on wastewater treatment.

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs led the way on moving forward with the local option, arguing that, while the idea that Davis was not interested in collaborating was false, he had concerns about the governance structure for a proposed Woodland-Davis project.

He argued that preserving the wetlands was a priority and the city would need to build a $10 million pipeline back to Davis in order to keep the wetlands in existence.  Finally, he argued that reuse is one of the defining issues in this and that this is going to be a bigger issue in the future.  The regionalization direction causes us to lose out.

When staff analyzed the project, they identified three major factors, two of which favored the local approach, and six minor factors, four of which favored the local approach.

Staff argued that they see better opportunities for urban and industrial water re-use near the Woodland facility.  But they add, “The Regional alternative would effectively eliminate the possibility of reuse opportunities within the City of Davis unless a treated effluent pipeline was constructed back to the City limits (about $10M cost).”

Lucas Frerichs argued that, while staff identified six of nine factors favoring the local approach, when you add in reuse and the concern about the wetlands and the cost of piping the water back to Davis, that number goes to seven.

However, the biggest factor favoring the regional approach is the possibility of cost savings, and staff comes up with the number of $30 million in savings.

Brent Meyer, a longtime Davis resident but the city engineer in Woodland for the last eight years, argued that the number should actually be about $50 million and, based on that number, he said he does not see how we cannot look at regionalization.

The issue of governance loomed large with many councilmembers expressing concern about the governance model.

“Regional governance is unknown,” staff wrote in their report. “It is possible that the Regional alternative could be part of the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency JPA. There would be the need to develop common understanding of wastewater priorities, including costs, environmental stewardship sensitivities, and growth expectations. Future decisions may require balancing between best interests of two communities.”

Mayor Joe Krovoza was the only councilmember supporting the regional approach.

“I’m sympathetic to the governance comments of my colleagues,” the mayor said.  “If we were to go forward and at least consider regionalization, there would be two things I would absolutely insist on.  One would be that we would only look at regionalization in partnership with Woodland.  If we buy in, I would expect it to be a partnership not a customer…”

The other thing he would insist on is that those involved in the “charrette” process be involved in the regional study.

But his thoughts would not carry the day.  Councilmember Rochelle Swanson argued that the preponderance of the concerns came down on the side of the local alternative.  She saw better options for innovation and she argued that this would be more than just a wastewater plant – that there would be learning opportunity and environmental sustainability concerns and she does not see those options available sending water to the north.

Michael Lindquist, the city staffer, noted that the investment would occur over time.  By 2017 we would ship partially-treated wastewater to Woodland.  In 2025 we would ship untreated wastewater to Woodland and our facility would no longer be used.  We would pay $30 million in 2017, another $30 million in 2025, and an impact fee for $30 million paid to Woodland at the rate of $1 million per year for 30 years.

The investment would be more spread out, but the possibility of cost-savings would also be spread out.

While staff argued that the Net Present Value (NPV), in terms of the capital and operations costs over the next 30 years, favors the regional approach, they believed that the cost savings would be far lower than what Woodland estimated, both in terms of Mr. Meyer’s comment and in terms of the letter from Woodland.

Woodland City Manager Paul Navazio, in his letter to Davis, argued, “The City of Woodland has presented a conceptual proposal to Davis staff that we believe could conservatively yield upwards of $47 million in net-present value savings to Davis over a 30-year period.”

“This compares to the $7 million savings estimated in the 2010 analysis; Davis staff has reviewed the Woodland proposal – under alternative assumptions – and has characterized the potential savings to be in the range of $19 – $39 million,” he continues. “While this represents a more conservative estimate than Woodland’s, it nonetheless represents a significant improvement from the 2010 analysis, and thus warrants additional consideration.”

Brett Lee would second the motion, with the friendly amendment that we have a check-in with UC Davis to see if they have any renewed interest in collaborating more locally on a wastewater alternative.

“I’m moved by the idea that the waterwater treatment plant is a strategic asset,” Councilmember Lee said.  “It is a cost… but 20 years from now, 40 years from now, this is another supply of water for our community.”

“Having the community having its own wastewater treatment plant with the potential for making use of that water, I think, is an asset,” he added.

Councilmember Frerichs, “I don’t think [the motion] precludes still having a conversation with the regional water board in terms of the timelines… I welcome that.”

He added, “It goes back to water reuse issue… there will always be an impediment for reuse in Davis.  There will always be a larger impediment if we ever want to do reuse in Davis in terms that we would be needing to build a $10 million pipeline and back in order to facilitate that reuse.”

“There certainly are still issues of the governance,” he said, but that’s just one of many concerns.

Councilmember Rochelle Swanson suggested that nothing would preclude the city of Woodland from joining Davis down the road.

—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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2 thoughts on “Council Eschews Regional Approach on Wastewater, Arguing for Local Autonomy”

  1. Frankly

    Does staff have a conflict of interest here since local autonomy means more city jobs and job opportunities?

    [i]”Having the community having its own wastewater treatment plant with the potential for making use of that water, I think, is an asset,” [/i]

    Why would we be precluded from working with Woodland to achieve all the same benefits we might achieve with a local system? If it is good for Davis, wouldn’t it also be good for Woodland?

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