Yolo water project protects our future

Earlier this year, construction began on our $271 million regional surface water supply project to bring Sacramento River water to communities of Yolo County now relying on unsustainable groundwater. It is one of the largest public works projects in our region.

Considering the recent adoption of historic groundwater management legislation and the passage of the water bond, our state is rightly focused on planning for and investing in a sustainable future for our water. This project is right in line with that goal, led by the cities of Woodland and Davis.

But the construction of this project was not always assured.

In 2011, not long after we both began serving on our city councils, ratepayers, particularly in Davis, were in revolt. Although planning for this project began in the mid-1990s, the public had not been adequately engaged. As a result, when Davis attempted to significantly raise rates, ratepayers protested by the thousands, gathered enough signatures to qualify a referendum for the ballot and initiated a lawsuit. Things looked bleak for the project.

In response, we worked diligently with our colleagues – notably Woodland Mayor Pro Tem Bill Marble and Davis City Councilwoman Rochelle Swanson – and members of our communities in implementing a number of measures to get the project back on track, including:

▪ Forming the Water Advisory Committee, a citizens committee in Davis similar to one in Woodland. The committee vetted and strengthened the project and provided a public forum for debate.

▪ Reducing the cost of the project from $350 million to $271 million through refinements.

▪ Settling the lawsuit.

▪ Devising water rate structures that are fair, easy to understand and have public support.

▪ Enacting legislation with the help of state Sen. Lois Wolk to qualify the project for low-interest state loans. As a result, the State Water Resources Control Board recently approved a loan of $95.5 million for Davis’ share of the project. When coupled with previous loan approvals for Woodland and one pending before the state water board, this translates into millions of dollars in savings to ratepayers.

▪ Securing more than $40 million in federal and state grants for a $56 million, state-of-the art screened intake on the Sacramento River. This improvement removes the largest unscreened intake on the Sacramento River.

As a result, Davis voters approved the water project, and this summer the City Council adopted rates after receiving a scant 35 protests. More recently, UC Davis decided to exercise its option to receive water from the project, providing further benefits to all participants.

Although the road was not smooth to get to this point, it never is when dealing with water in California. But the important thing is that through hard work our project is headed toward completion in 2016 with strong support from the public. And in a time when our state needs to be focused on reversing the disinvestment in our vital infrastructure, our communities are leading the charge.

Dan Wolk is mayor of Davis. Tom Stallard is mayor of Woodland.