A great many Davis residents are coming to understand the central question of the campaign against Measure I, the Woodland-Davis Surface Water Project: Does Davis needlessly and precipitously surrender its water system to privatization advocates and give a for-profit corporation guaranteed no-risk profits, while saddling the community with crushing debt for a system larger than needed and unaffordable for most? Or do we reject Measure I, and insist instead on wise planning and fiscal restraint, building modestly and incrementally only what is truly needed keeping Davis affordable for all?
A flood of citizens at the "No on I" booth at the Davis Farmer's Market on Saturday carried off lawn signs faster than they could be kept in stock, offering to walk precincts or table at public plazas. The reasons they expressed for voting "No" are varied.
Many balk at gifting our public water resource to a private operator to sell back to us at a profit. Others refuse to overbuild the project just to meet summer peak demand that could better be managed with good conservation and alternating irrigation days and times to match peak use with the capacity of a fiscally modest plant. Still others criticize the City Council's decision to only hold a mail-in ballot that constricts voting, not a full one-day election. Still others are outraged that city staff concealed the embarrassing fact that one of the bidders for the project had withdrawn, leaving only one competitive bidder, forcing a last-minute effort by the Joint Powers Authority to bring United Water back into the bidding process. That required the authority to guarantee that part of the bidder's risk will be assumed by ratepayers, breaking an earlier promise that all risk would be borne by the winning bidder.
Others refuse to issue the city a blank check, because the City Council hasn't put a real cap on project costs. They're offended by the constant attempts of Measure I's apologists to claim that the cost of the Woodland-Davis Project would be "only" circa $115 million, when $115 million is just, maybe, the project price. The actual final cost, with debt interest included, could be well over $300 million, which is why Measure I would triple or quadruple our water bills well into the future.
Last, many object to Measure I because it would have Davis act like a Southern California suburb by taking water from the Trinity and Sacramento River watersheds, further harming those ecological systems and economies, and exacerbating the depletion of the fresh-water flows of the dying Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
However, while the majority voice some blend of the above concerns, three issues are often cited as the crucial reason for a "No" vote:
● Realization that the Woodland-Davis surface water system was designed by the well-to-do, and highly benefits wealthy land speculators, but will be paid for by common residents of far more modest means.
● Discovery that repeated claims by Alan Pryor and other Measure I advocates that Davis well water is a source of heavy metals or other pollutants are absolutely false, as documented in an exhaustive, comprehensive and scientifically vetted 10-year study issued January 2013 by the Calif. Dept. of Public Health for the Calif. State Water Resources Control Board.
● The revelation, confirmed by Herb Niederberger, Davis utilities manager, that the city hasn't paid for its own water use over the past decade or longer, instead burdening Davis' regular ratepayers with paying for all water produced and delivered.
In light of the above, it isn't surprising that so many Davis voters now say Measure I is too much to swallow, or that so many no longer trust what city staff, the City Council or paid consultants told the public or the Water Advisory Committee about Davis' water supply, use or needs. Many especially don't trust the solution proposed by Measure I, and say that Davis can and must do better.
Nobody advocates waiting for a crisis before solving Davis' complex future water needs. Rather, the majority sees that Davis isn't in a crisis, nor facing one, and there is more than enough high quality water in the stable deep aquifer. Its deep wells will provide ample time for the city to act wisely and plan an appropriately-sized water system affordable for all Davis residents. This can be achieved by taking only what is needed and respecting the environment, and without crushing Davis citizens under 30 years of debilitating debt. That's a positive and pro-active goal.