The Zone 7 Water Agency Board of Directors approved an initial environmental review document for a Del Valle ozone filtration project and the agency's 2018 water rates during a three-hour meeting Wednesday night.
Spirited discussion around customers' water bills took center stage, with a handful of speakers voicing the concern that the ozonation project was too expensive and would ultimately lead to higher rates for customers to cover project costs.
Staff and board members, however, said the project -- which currently has a projected cost of $38-40 million and $1.1 million per year in maintenance -- is fundamental to ensuring the safety of water for locals and generations to come.
"We're the last of the Mohicans to use this technique," board member Dick Quigley said during the meeting in Livermore. "It's proven successful. And we need it for our kids and our grandkids."
The purpose of the ozonation project is to enhance the water quality by disinfecting and treating cyanotoxins at the existing Del Valle Water Treatment Plant. The proposed project would include the construction of new facilities like an ozone generation building, contactor structure, new chemical facilities and storage, a new utility water pump station and some new impervious area.
According to a memo by Tami Church, assistant water resources planner, the ozonation project has been included in Zone 7's capital improvement program for several years.
In 2008 and 2009, a consulting firm started evaluating the use of ozone as a disinfectant and as a way to improve the water quality at the Del Valle and Patterson Pass water treatment plants.
In 2015, after cyanotoxins were discovered at Lake Del Valle, the consultants completed another study on the best treatment for cyanotoxins and found that ozone use was the best manner available.
In May 2016, the Zone 7 board awarded a contract to CDM Smith to design the Del Valle ozone system, pending compliance with state environmental law.
A draft initial study and mitigated negative declaration (IS/MND) was prepared, with mitigation measures identified in areas of potential significant impact: air quality, biology, cultural resources, geology/soils, hazards and hazardous materials, hydrology/water quality and tribal cultural resources.
The board received no comment letters during a 30-day public review period, and so the final IS/MND remained unchanged from the draft version. This document is what the board approved Wednesday in a 7-0 vote, allowing Zone 7 staff to move forward with funding negotiations and the project design.
Specific funding mechanisms are still up in the air, though the board is considering either pay-as-you-go financing or debt-financing for the ozone projects. According to water resources planner Elke Rank, 100% of funding for the Del Valle project will come from Fund 120 -- Improvement, Renewal & Replacement.
The proposal saw opposition from several residents, some of whom carried signs reading phrases like "Roll Back Rate Hike Along with Drought Surcharge."
Tish Niehans, a Pleasanton resident who had voiced concerns about the board's lack of transparency earlier in the meeting, was critical of the board's public review process, saying that she had not been alerted to the environmental review.
"I think there was a failure of adequate public notice for this draft document...I surely would have commented, because I’m concerned not just with environmental impact of construction dust and dirt and noise, but of what massive amounts of ozone, 24/7/52, for the next 25 years is going to mean for the environment of the vineyards close by and the people living nearby," she said.
Board member Sarah Palmer, a science teacher with a degree in biochemistry, addressed Niehan's latter concern later, stating that in the treatment process, the ozone would be destroyed before getting released into the environment.
Other residents expressed the sentiment that the scope of the project was unnecessary and too expensive.
Vin Pohray acknowledged that ozone was an effective disinfectant. "What we have as a concern is that the use of ozone should be limited to settled water and disinfection, as most other agencies do," he said. His concern rested in how the project would be treating raw water with ozone.
However, Palmer again pointed to a chart from the presentation earlier, citing other plants and projects that were also treating raw water -- the L.A. Aqueduct, Stockton Delta Water Supply Project and the Harry Tracy Water Treatment Plant in San Mateo were included, among others.
Two members of the public spoke up in favor of the project, thanking the board for moving forward with it.
"I think that now is the time to move forward with this technology," Pleasanton resident Jill Buck said. "I'm so tired of seeing our infrastructure -- locally, statewide, and nationally -- crumbling around us, and hearing the same tired excuse, that it's too expensive to do anything, when we all know that it will only get more expensive the longer we wait."
The other public proponent was Livermore Mayor John Marchand, a chemist who also served on Zone 7's board for 15 years. "I assure you, the risks of trihalomethanes, haloacetic acids, haloacetonitriles, and the cyanotoxins, those risks are very real," he said. "Ozone represents the state-of-the-art treatment. Our children and their children deserve nothing less."
The Zone 7 board also talked 2018 water rates, voting to end the temporary drought surcharge after it expires in December 2017 and to approve staff recommendations for both treated and untreated water rates.
Zone 7 sells water wholesale to local service providers, including the cities of Pleasanton and Livermore, Cal Water Livermore and the Dublin San Ramon Service District (DSRSD). Zone 7 rate increases are passed through to ratepayers.
According to Osborn Solitei, Zone 7's assistant general manager of finance, the base rate for treated water will increase from $1.98 per 100 cubic feet (CCF) to $2.04 per CCF, and the average retailer pass-through of Zone 7's fixed charge will go up from $1.07 to $1.12. However, without the surcharge, Solitei said, the overall sum of the treated water rate components will decrease from $3.62/CCF to $3.16/CCF.
The city of Pleasanton is still determining how the new rates will affect residents' water bills.
"The City is working on constructing our rates adjustment based on last night's Zone 7 action," said Leonard Olive, assistant director of Pleasanton's operations services, in an email to the Pleasanton Weekly. "Allocating the 'fixed' component of their rate structure over our customer base requires some detailed consumption forecasting for the next year. We will likely have a close approximation within a week, with fine-tuned numbers by the end of the month."
The vote counts for canceling the drought surcharge and approving the treated water rates were 6-0, as vice-president Jim McGrail left the meeting early.
Following a heated exchange between untreated water customer and former board member David Lunn and board member Bill Stevens, the board also voted to approve increases in untreated water rates as well, which would go up from $113 per acre-foot (AF) to $129 per AF. Five voted in favor of the increases, with Palmer abstaining, without elaboration.