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Davis, California

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Surface water project campaign coming to a close

Since the formation of the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency (WDCWA) in 2009, the surface water project has gone through multiple bumps in the road to finalization.

The past three years have been a whirlwind of city council meetings, hashing out ways to decrease water rates as well as slash the cost of the project for the City of Davis. An indicator of the project progressing was a public forum held on Saturday at City Hall, in which the community was allowed to question opponents and proponents of the project.

The proposed surface water project plans to replace the groundwater currently used with treated water from the Sacramento River. Pipelines would transport water from the river’s surface water to the water treatment plant in Woodland. From there, the water would be sent to Woodland, Davis and UC Davis.

The project is also known as Measure I, which Davis residents will be able to vote on in the March 5 special election. Ballots were sent out on Monday.

Measure I asks if residents approve of the city advancing the joint surface water project with Woodland. The measure requires a majority vote to pass, in which at least half of the estimated 16,500 property owners in Davis need to approve.

“In addition, in accordance with Proposition 218, all property owners will be sent notices about the public hearing on March 19, during which they may offer testimony about the proposed new water rates,” said a City of Davis press release.

Prop. 218 was passed in November 1996. A draft of the proposition on the California Secretary of State’s website said the proposition requires voter approval before any water, refuse or sewer rates are increased. Notice of a public hearing must be mailed out 45 days in advance.

The public hearing will be on March 19 at 6:30 p.m. at the Community Chambers at City Hall.

“The water project proposed isn’t necessary,” said Pam Nieberg, a Davis resident and a part of the No on Measure I campaign. “It’s costly and there are huge impacts on the people in Davis. According to the city, costs will triple by 2018 — a huge increase in five years.”

In November 2012, Woodland and Davis came to an agreement to split the consumption-based costs 60-40. The overall project will cost roughly $245 million, a decrease from the estimated $325 million in 2009. The proposed water project will cost Davis about $103 million, down from the original $113 million.

“There’s no public oversight and the city council introduced high rates despite 5,800 protests,” Nieberg said.

Nieberg said she believes there are alternatives that need to be discussed, such as the West Sacramento water project Davis was initially considering. She said that the West Sacramento option would confer better advantages and be cheaper.

“We can’t vote on a specific project without knowing the rates,” Nieberg said. “The rates are constantly fluctuating.”

A fellow No on Measure I supporter and Davis resident Ernie Head said although he acknowledges the city tried to make rates more reasonable, their decisions did not, in fact, make the rates any more reasonable.

“We don’t know the actual cost of construction,” Head said. “After adding everything to the equation, we’re talking about [the project costing] $600 million. The city manager determined it’ll cost $30 million for 30 years.”

Head said he’s concerned for students as well, since many students are already having trouble meeting financial obligations.

“Well, over half of students can’t afford increases in water fees,” he said. “The city’s not being honest. The way they use Prop. 218 is the most un-American, dishonest way of getting their way.”

Head said the city sends out the proposition notices to all property owners, but not all voters own properties. Additionally, some people own multiple properties so they receive more votes.

“[The] vast majority [sees] it as junk mail,” Head said. “If they don’t vote, then it’s counted as a ‘yes’ vote.”

Another argument the No campaign made was that the water quality in Davis isn’t bad enough to be an issue.

“We have adequate groundwater; there’s no problem with salinity or selenium,” said Nancy Price, a Davis resident and supporter of the No on Measure I campaign. “There’s very little accountability to people. We need verified facts and time to negotiate.”

Price said the Water Advisory Committee (WAC) has already reduced the size and cost of the project significantly, but she believes there are there more savings to be made. The WAC operates with the city to analyze the water policy and offer its recommendations.

Elaine Musser, part of the Yes on I campaign and chair of the WAC, said going through with the project or not going through with the project would still increase rates.

“We considered the West Sac project, but because we would be a customer instead of a partner, we decided against it even though it was cheaper,” Musser said. “Students should care [about this project] because they’re rent payers; they might find an increase in rent — although some landlords are thinking of sharing costs.”

Musser said she thinks there’s a good chance of the measure passing.

In a recent poll the Yes on Measure I campaign published, 85 percent were aware of the project and 70 percent were for Measure I. The poll surveyed 300 likely voters in late December 2012.

Diane Phillips, senior civil engineer for the City of Davis, said the city has been trying to find ways to meet the regulatory side, the government side that affects the project and determines the best way possible to help ratepayers.

“We downsized the project and cut back,” Phillips said. “We try to be more sensitive to what will be a very big burden to ratepayers. More recently, the city council got together with the WAC and the public; lately, the public’s definitely been more involved.”

Phillips said projects start with large budgets, and as they go along, they reduce in scope.

“We understand how much pipeline might be laid and how much environmental work has to be done because we’ve talked to people,” Phillips said. “The price has gone down a little bit because of those things.”

Five community meetings are being held at 7 p.m. throughout February to provide additional information about the proposed water rates.

The first two meetings were on Monday and Tuesday. Today, a meeting will be held at the Senior Citizen’s Center at 646 A St. On Feb. 20, it will be held at the South Davis Fire Station at 425 Mace Blvd. The last meeting will be held on Feb. 21 at Birch Lane Elementary at 1600 Birch Lane.

CLAIRE TAN can be reached at city@theaggie.org.



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