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Davis, California

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Water rates could rise next year

The city of Davis’ water system could soon be moving toward being mainly composed of surface water, a move which could potentially affect utility costs.

At the April 12 city council meeting, the council discussed costs of switching to this system as the base supply by 2016.

Though the Surface Water Project has been in the works for years, the council will be voting for approval to switch from the current well system at the May 17 meeting.

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) requires cities to comply with the California Code of Regulations standards for drinking water. One of the CDPH requirements is that each water system has an adequate supply for all customers – providing enough water at adequate pressure for peak hour demand, or average demand plus what would be needed to put out a fire.

The current Davis peak hour demand closely matches the supply capacity. Still, with the declining water trend and the addition of new facilities to improve water system reliability, the city may still need to purchase water from UC Davis this summer, which uses groundwater wells on campus.

The transition to using surface water would also mitigate the city’s current concerns with nitrates, selenium, arsenic, manganese, hardness, TDS and hexavalent chromium.

According to a city staff report, $14 million would be needed to support the planned Surface Water Project. The rate increase assumes that $6 million will be spent during the 2011-2012 fiscal year and will increase over the next five years to fund the construction of the project.

The proposed water rate increases for utilities would be 28 percent next year, a target average of $110 per month for single-family residents. This would help maintain the current water system and provide sufficient revenue to pay for the bonds to build the Surface Water Project.

Dianna Jensen, principal civil engineer for the project, said certain other additions to the project would not be possible because of community budget restraints. For example, fluoride will not be added to the water.

Local attorney Elaine Roberts Musser said she believes the estimate is overly conservative. She said there is the possibility of a jump in the storm sewer rate and upgrades in the wastewater treatment plant because of possible new regulations.

According to the staff report, one additional expenditure is the sewer change rates, which will cost $13.1 million in 2011-2012 for operations and maintenance.

Musser said she believes landlords will pass the change in cost along to renters in the form of rent hikes. 

“I was shocked by how much higher the rates were than I previously thought,” Musser said. “We need hard numbers, so citizens have a better idea of what they’re facing and can plan for it.”

If 51 percent of homeowners turn in written protests, the city will be unable to impose the proposed assessment increases.

Councilmember Sue Greenwald said the city needs to make sure there are cheaper alternative ways to construct the project. Nonetheless, Greenwald said she believes there are some positives to the new system.

“If the tiered rates go up … people will use less water,” Greenwald said. “I am worried that if it’s too expensive, some people might have to leave Davis. Still, building the new system is chump change compared to [importing water].”

Mayor Pro Tempore Rochelle Swanson said the council will try to err on the side of the conservative, in terms of rate increases.

ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached city@theaggie.org.


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