Davis City Council approves rate hikes for new water project

Published: Thursday, Mar. 21, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B

The Davis City Council approved rate hikes late Tuesday to pay for the Surface Water Project that will draw water from the Sacramento River, supplementing the groundwater the city has long relied upon.

The action came after voters this month endorsed the public works project and property owners did not lodge enough formal protests to block rate hikes.

The water rate for a typical Davis single-family home is currently about $35 a month, an amount expected to triple over the next five years, according to Mayor Joe Krovoza. The first increase will occur May 1.

Monthly water bills for apartment and commercial buildings will also see significant increases.

City leaders say they will help those least able to afford the new rates and are looking to ways to further lower project costs by securing federal funds and using competitive bidding.

The project is designed to supply 18 million gallons a day of treated river water to Woodland and 12 million gallons a day to Davis starting in 2016. Davis' share of the roughly $245 million project will cost the city as much as $116 million before water purchase, operations and other costs.

A measure enabling Davis to proceed on the two-city project won in a special March 5 mail-in election with 54 percent of the vote.

"We'll monitor the implementation of rates and work to assist those least able to pay," Krovoza said Wednesday. "The project opens up excellent opportunities to store winter river water in our Yolo County aquifers and use our low-quality wells for irrigation."

Krovoza and other supporters said the project will extend the life of the city's groundwater, solve the city's water quality issues and help the city meet state and federal clean water deadlines.

Davis today relies on a network of aging wells for its water supply.

Krovoza said the city will keep a rate structure similar to its current one until 2015, "so everyone can learn the new system – which is the fairest possible system for those that manage their water use with care."

The city currently uses a blended rate that has both a fixed charge and a usage-based component.

In 2015, the rate structure changes to a formula that also accounts for the cost of providing water to city users and costs related to water supply and treatment.

Opponents of the rate increases say the hikes are not a foregone conclusion.

"Currently, the rate structures are illegal. The rates aren't adopted until they're final and they're not final until they're done (in May)," said Davis attorney Michael Harrington.

His group, Yolo Ratepayers for Affordable Public Utility Services, filed suit in Yolo Superior Court alleging, among other charges, that the new rate structure is unconstitutional. Opponents allege the city is charging more than it needs.

Harrington said the group "will make decisions shortly on how to proceed," but suggested that further legal action could be on the horizon.

"Whether the city has a project or not, we're pushing for fair, lawful, affordable rates," Harrington said. "We don't think the city's there yet."

Call The Bee's Darrell Smith, (916) 321-1040.

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