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Davis, California

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Council argues over water projects

If you think your utility bills are high, just look at what the city of Davis may have to pay.

The city is facing a legal requirement to upgrade its wastewater treatment system, a considerably complex undertaking. That issue is compounded by the fact that the city wants to upgrade its water supply system. Successfully completing those two projects will cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars.

At last week’s city council meeting, Councilmember Sue Greenwald raised the issue of the potentially devastating impact such a large investment could have.

“We’re headed toward a fiscal train wreck,” she said at the meeting.

The council was receiving a report on the Davis-Woodland Water Supply project, which will provide surface water from the Sacramento River for Davis, Woodland and UC Davis. Those areas currently depend on groundwater drawn from wells.

Staff reports estimate that the surface water project will cost $160 million. The cost of the wastewater treatment plant is estimated at $206 million.

Sparks flew when Mayor Ruth Asmundson claimed that Greenwald was debating with the expert who presented the report instead of simply asking questions.

“What you’re doing, Sue, is debating,” Asmundson said. “We need to look at the report.”

Greenwald and Asmundson struggled to talk over each other, with Greenwald trying to defend her line of reasoning and Asmundson telling her she was out of order.

“Ruth, when we’re talking about a half billion dollar project you have to let us question the experts,” Greenwald said forcefully.

Asmundson obstinately repeated that Greenwald was out of order and that her time to question was over. Greenwald continued talking.

“I think that I’m doing what I have to do to protect the citizens of Davis and to ask the right questions, ask the hard questions,” Greenwald said. “That’s what I was elected to do.”

At that point, Asmundson abruptly called an unplanned five-minute recess and walked away from the dais with Councilmember Don Saylor.

For Greenwald, the critical question is whether the city should revamp its water supply immediately, or wait until after the wastewater treatment plant upgrade is complete.

Experts say the city should act now.

“If you look around the state, numerous water agencies are running really short of water supplies,” said Harvey Collins, chair of the independent panel that reviewed the Davis-Woodland Water Supply project. “Summer water is going to be very hard to get in the future.”

Collins said the city could hurt itself by waiting, because construction costs increase faster than the rate of inflation. He also said the hydro-geologists on the panel agreed that there’s no guarantee that groundwater quality will remain at current levels.

Collins also said the surface water project was better than the other alternatives, such as treating groundwater, because the surface water project would result in the lowest emissions of any alternative.

Nonetheless, Greenwald wants the city to wait. She says if the surface water project is postponed for 25 to 30 years, residents would not have to bear such high water costs, because the city’s debt would be spread out over a greater period of time.

Since the item was informational, no action was required and the council did not make any decisions.


Jeremy Ogul can be reached at city@californiaaggie.com.


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