by Donna Lemongello and Matt Williams
Please accept this formal, legal submission for inclusion in the Staff Report to Council for the Water Rates item requested by four Council members in the Tuesday, May 27, 2014 Council Meeting.
Democracy is an intriguing process. It works well when the people voice their opinions about key issues … and their elected representatives listen to them. In the past two months, and especially in the past two weeks, Measure P has been looking very much like democracy working well.
Here we are two weeks prior to Election Day and the Yes On Measure P forces have been asking for a “fairer” rate structure, one that does not shift costs to rate payers who must irrigate during the hot summer months. “Don’t use 6 months, use all 12 months” is a refrain frequently being heard these days. In their Enterprise OpEd, Mark Siegler and Sue Greenwald said, “[We] believe there were less expensive ways to responsibly manage our water needs […] and it is incumbent upon our City Council and the council alone to come up with rates that don’t unfairly penalize any user group.“
In addition to their desires for “fairness” the supporters of Measure P would ideally like to find a way to assure that the total rates approximate an equal charge per gallon used for all consumers, with consideration of the fact that the water district should keep irrigation rates low enough so that irrigators do not have incentive to dig and/or pipe private wells for irrigation. Their argument is that with its high fixed costs, the water district needs everyone, including future new subdivisions, to fully participate in paying off our surface water system and our permanent supplementary summer water rights purchase.
The “fairness” concepts identified by that OpEd and the subsequent League of Womens Voters forum have caused members of the community to come up with adjustments to the CBFR rate structure that can help the Council meet that challenging “fairness” goal.
This “fairness” proposal has five components:
- The first is the elimination of the prior year look back. Bob Dunning has been arguing for well over a year that “fairness” starts with paying for the water that you use … and only the water that you use, paying as you go. In January 2015, the first month when these newly proposed rates are in place, if you used 5 ccf of water then your bill would include a Supply Charge for 5 ccf of water.
- The Supply Charge will be annualized based on each month’s consumption rather than the six summer months of consumption. In their public presentations the Yes On Measure P supportershave advocated that basing the Supply Charge on a full 12 months of usage is “fair” and it eliminates confusion.
- Making water more affordable for low volume users is very hard when the monthly Fixed Fee is high. CBFR already was reducing the Fixed Fee by 48% from $19.68 to $10.21 per month for most single-family residences. The “fairness” adjustments reduce the $10.21 by another 19% to $8.25 per month. In total the January 2015 Fixed Fee shows a 58% decrease from the January 2014 Fixed Fee. This change is accomplished by allocating the fixed meter replacement costs to the Supply Charge rather than the Distribution Charge
- The fourth aspect of “fairness” is to somehow see if we can’t convince people that irrigating our street gutters isn’t a good use of water, whether in a drought year like this one when water supplies are scarce, or in a normal year when water is easier to come by. People who farm the land and/or study Plant Science at UCD have said many times that our roads in Davis are not fertile ground for growing green veggies and tomatoes and fruits of all shapes and sizes. They also say that the best way to cure the practice of watering our gutters is to include a high usage tier in the Variable Use charge. That way “wasted water” that sheets off of over irrigated lawns and into the street gutters will cost much more than wisely used water. The proposal suggests that the first tier be set at $0.50 per ccf for the first 20 ccf of household/unit water each month. That is a 42% reduction in the cost of the water that most Davis residents use each month. In any month where the household/unit usage is 21 ccf or more, the proposed rate is $1.90 per ccf, which should result in a significant number of irrigation system adjustments so that watering the streets at the same time we irrigate our lawns will become a rare sight in Davis. This two-tier structure provides a “fairer” reduced rate for those who use water responsibly and an immediate conservation signal for those who use irrigation water wastefully. 20 ccf of water per household/unit provides enough indoor water at $0.50 per ccf to meet the needs of a household of 8 people. The indoor water use of large households is not penalized as a result. The above example does appear to achieve a maximum level of vertical equity as shown in the graphic at the end of this Citizen Submission, Council has the option to direct a validation of this fourth component of the proposed solution prior to final acceptance and inclusion in the official water rates.
- The final “fairness” step in this proposal is to give the ratepayers one more opportunity to formally protest the rates before they go into effect on January 1, 2015 by conducting a Proposition 218 Notice in the fall.
Editor’s note: this report was submitted at 1:35 pm, Thursday, May 22, 2014 to Herb Niederberger, Gene Rogers, and Zoe Mirabile. At press time, it has not been included on the council agenda.