Davis residents might be paying more for water in the fall – but don’t blame it on drought.
To counterbalance the cost of improving water quality, replacing water supply infrastructure and building a new wastewater treatment facility, the city of Davis is changing water rates for Davis residents that will take effect Aug. 1.
Passed 4-1 at Tuesday’s city council meeting, the impending rate changes will increase the base rate citizens pay for water, sanitation and sanitary sewer rates that amounts to an estimated 10 percent increase for the average customer.
This indicates a decreasing emphasis on consumption-based rates, which in turn will hurt Davis residents who use an average amount of water and reward high-demand users, councilmember Lamar Heystek said.
“The more rates are based on consumption, the more you incentivize conservation,” he said. “Doing something that moves away from rewarding conservation is not something I want to support.“
The rate increases are tied to improvements to the water infrastructure that the city must complete in order to comply with federal regulations.
One way to reduce, or at least postpone, the cost of the improvements to the water system is to enforce mandatory conservation.
“If we were really serious about reducing water consumption as a community, by perhaps 20 percent, we could easily reduce the size of the projects we have to undertake,” Heystek said. “We can raise taxes and rates all we want but we aren’t getting to the heart of the issue, and that is reducing consumption.“
At the meeting, city manger Bill Emlen said that Davis is committed to a consumption-based approach, and the current rate hikes are just “an interim step” to finding a happy medium where conservation is rewarded, and base rates are fair.
Nevertheless, several Davis residents expressed resentment about the 10 percent increase at the meeting, citing their efforts to conserve water that the city has rewarded with raised rates.
With higher base rates, those citizens who use smaller 65-gallon trash containers – as opposed to the largest 130 gallon trashcans – and use less water will incur “outrageously” growing costs, said Davis resident Dennis Westcot.
“There’s no incentive for me to conserve,” he said. “I’m subsidizing those people who are wasting. According to [my consumption] essentially I’m paying a higher cost to build that water tank.“
Others expressed concern for the continually increasing costs that are put on the backs of Davis citizens, which will only increase with the water system improvements.
Unfortunately, the rate increases are necessary.
As investments that loom in Davis‘ near future, overhauls to the water supply and mandatory wastewater treatment modifications come at the command of California’s State Water Resources Control Board.
“This isn’t something the council has taken lightly,” councilmember Don Saylor said. “There’s a reason that the scientific analysis and water control boards set the limits they do. Unfortunately it costs a bundle.“
In order to meet the water quality standards under the revised SWRCB mandate that is specific to Davis, the city must reduce concentrations of selenium, nitrate, heavy metals and overall salinity.
An outside review of the city’s plans embraced their tactics and suggested some alternative options for the necessary improvements to Davis‘ water supply, wastewater treatment and effluent dispersal systems. The report, which is available on the city’s website, was completed in February by UC Davis professors George Tchobanoglous and Edward Schroeder, experts in the respective areas of civil and environmental engineering and water quality, water supply, and water and wastewater treatment.
One controversial project is the East Area Water Tank, a 35-foot high concrete water storage facility being considered that would help regulate peak water demand needs.
Now in the process of bidding for contracts, the tank project is just one of several modifications in the water system overhaul that councilmember Sue Greenwald said may cost as much as $350 to $450 million overall.
Design alone for the concrete tank cost approximately $750,000 and currently there is no guarantee that the city will ultimately go through with the proposed design.
“Already our rates are high without paying for this,” said Greenwald, who has pushed for a lower cost steel tank that would last 40 years, or about 25 years less than a concrete structure. “I’m uncomfortable passing rate increase after rate increase and I think we need to get our heads around how to contain costs.“
For others, though, the decisions regarding water infrastructure improvements are simple.
“We have an infrastructure that is falling apart and wells that are between 30 and 50 years old that need to be replaced,” councilmember Stephen Souza said. “We can either pay the piper today or pay the piper tomorrow.“
The city council will delve deeper into the water supply issue at its meeting Tuesday. More information is available at cityofdavis.org.
AARON BRUNER can be reached at email@example.com. XXX