Water Quality Discussion
Fair Water Quality Project?
Federal and state governments sets “standards” for what constitutes safe drinking water and then water suppliers must provide water that meets those standards. Water quality is checked by monthly testing. When drinking water falls below standards, a more intensive monitoring program is instituted. Eventually, if water quality continues to fail to meet water quality standards, then remedial action is required. Failure to act can lead to expensive, punitive recurring penalties. This framework protects the public from risky water supply management.
Not all communities are the same size and not all source waters are the same level of quality prior to treatment, making the cost of meeting water quality standards quite different among communities. Small rural water suppliers often face high costs, and as a result governments over a number of subsidization programs to help with affordability.
The City of Davis used to be predominantly on groundwater supplies, but from 2011-2016 it developed a new surface water project to bring up to 45,000 acre-feet of water per year from the Sacramento River to Woodland and Davis at a cost of $279.2 million, with some state and federal funding ( https://www.wdcwa.com). This high cost caused a sharp increase in water rates in Davis, but was still relatively modest due to the relatively large number of people sharing that cost between the two communities. During dry summers, the river water is unsafe, so Davis then returns to its wells for its water supply.
North Davis Meadows (NDM) is a small community of 100 properties in Yolo County north of Davis, CA (just west of Highway 113 and south of road 29). Beginning in 1989, NDM was founded with 2 large wells built to the standards of that time. By the mid-2000s, NDMs wells were failing to meet California’s Nitrate water quality standard, triggering more intensive monitoring and eventually a remedial action plan. The cause of the problem is debated, but could be due to poor well construction allowing seepage of contaminated surface waters down along the well casing, well deterioration leading to the same problem as for poor construction, and/or migration of agricultural runoff into the aquifer that supplies NDM- or other reasons altogether. Meanwhile, the state has enacted very strict standards for Chromium-6, which is also present in California’s groundwater, often due to natural sources. Other chemical constituents of water can be water quality problems, too. Compared to Davis and Woodland, NDM is very small and cannot afford a huge, expensive project like the Woodland-Davis pipeline. Also, that project did not invite or allow NDM to participate.
NDM residents have been nearly split on two very different solutions to the problem. One faction wants new wells, as that retains free water and is low cost, though it may run up against water quality standards that would be expensive to remediate as the state continues to make its standards ever more strict. The other faction wants to be free of any water quality obligation no matter the cost, and so would like to hook into the Davis water supply system, making water quality management the City’s problem, not NDM’s problem. The political process got contentious. A democratic vote went just barely in favor of joining the city’s water system, though some residents dispute that voting process. Now some of those opposed to joining the city’s water system have sued Yolo County, bringing the process to a halt. If the project goes through as documented in 2018, homeowners would be looking at an annual fixed cost of $4,157 compared to the current annual fee of $298, and then they would have to pay a per-unit cost for water, estimated to be an additional $2000-6000 per year, depending on how much they use. Therefore, rates would go up by a factor of ~ 30. Imagine your budget and paying > $6,000/year (> $500/month) just for your water…
The question arises, Is meeting very strict state imposed water quality standards fair regardless of how much it costs a community?
Different stakeholders have different perspectives on this issue. Some are in favor of or against joining the city’s water project at high cost.
You will watch the movie A Civil Action to view a dramatized, fictional perspective on the consequences of exposing a community to heavily polluted water and the legal battle thereafter. After watching the movie but before coming to your discussion section, everybody will read four short documents relevant to the problem facing small rural communities of the high cost of meeting state standards. Further, after watching the movie but before coming to your discussion section, each person will be assigned to a stakeholder viewpoint and you will read a document presenting the viewpoint you are assigned to articulate. In class you will participate in discussion of the scenario.
- Ross and Marcus. 2018. “Too many Californians lack safe drinking water. Here’s how to supply the have-nots”. Sacramento Bee, 01 June 2018.
- Reese. 2018. “Does your water district fail to comply with drinking water standards?” Sacramento Bee, 01 June 2018.
- Boxall. 2014. “California to set chromium limit for drinking water supplies”. Los Angeles Times, 15 April 2014.
- California Department Of Public Health. 2014. Nitrate Fact Sheet.
Stakeholder ID’s for this assignment:
- Yolo County (backed by faction of happy NDM homeowners)
- Faction of angry NDM homeowners
Specific Readings by stakeholder ID:
You are welcome to search the internet to find more resources in support of discussing the viewpoint you are assigned to represent.
1. Pick no less than three of the five following documents:
- Yolo County Board of Supervisors. 2018. “Proposition 218 Notification Notice To Property Owners Of Proposed Water Rate Increase And Public Hearing”
- Yolo County Natural Resources Division. 2018. “Evaluation Of Water System Options For The North Davis Meadows County Service Area”
- Powerpoint presentation titled, “North Davis Meadows Community Meeting”, dated 03 May 2018.
- Supervisor Don Saylor’s letter to NDM residents dated 03 August 2018.
- Wolstoncroft v. County of Yolo. No. PT-18-1854. Defendant County Of Yolo’s Answer To Petition For Writ Of Mandate And Complaint For Reverse Validation And Declaratory Relief
2. Read both of these documents:
- Wolstoncroft v. County of Yolo. No. PT-18-1854. Complaint For Reverse Validation And Declaration Of Relief.
- Comments written by various homeowners unhappy with the county’s plan.
Activity in discussion section:
- 10 minutes settling class down, deal with class issues, and TA intro to scenario.
- 10 minutes discussion with same all people with same viewpoint discussing how to make your main points
- 10 minutes with an opposing viewpoint, one-on-one
- 10 minutes with an opposing viewpoint, one-one-one
- 10 minutes whole-class discussion wrap up.