Water torture

People of Davis: look into your water!

People of Davis: look into your water!

Photo By Ken Widmann

From the cover of Davis Utility Connection, a public works newsletter mailed to residents: “The city of Davis Department of Public Works continually adds new programs and improves services to maintain the family friendly, environmentally savvy community to which residents are accustomed.”

Not sure how composting tips and wastewater treatment updates qualify as “family friendly.” It’s time we retire that phrase—at this point what’s not family-friendly? (I guess this newsletter, with its reminder to kindly not place used needles in the trash, you miserable addict.) Also, you gotta love the insistence that as Davis residents, we’re accustomed to living in a certain manner. Presumably, that manner includes being flattered by a municipal newsletter.

This kind of mailer can only mean one thing for us environmentally savvy Davisians: rate hikes. And on page four, beneath a half-page of chest thumping (“Did you know the Davis Public Works Department maintains water service to 16,485 customers?”) comes the shiv: The average resident’s monthly sanitation, sewer and water bill will increase $5.25.

The cover also promises a discolored water update. Far as I can tell, the only mention inside is a notice that the city is undergoing its annual program to flush water lines of sediment, which requires the opening of fire hydrants. In more urban cities, cranking open a few spigots on hot day is cause for a family-friendly street party. Here, “Residents in the immediate vicinity may notice cloudy water or a slight drop in water pressure.”

Fair enough.

The newsletter is a heckuva lot more family friendly than the Annual Water Quality Report, a full-color glossy brochure mandated by the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Under “What Does Our Water Contain?” is a chart listing over 35 substances that might be floating around in your drink, and you, right now. Some with scary names like arsenic. Other chemicals, the chart helpfully explains, leach into our water from items like oil-drilling wastes or septic tanks.

The chart ain’t easy to decipher, but one column is clear: The levels of iron and manganese in our water are in violation of state standards. A footnote explains: “Three of our production wells contain concentrations of manganese that exceeds the state’s SMCL [secondary maximum contaminent levels]. Also, one of our wells has an iron concentration that exceeds the SCML. This is considered an aesthetic problem, not a health problem, because high levels of manganese and/or iron may cause discolored water or stain plumbing fixtures.”

Feel better? If your water comes out discolored, it’s either the iron or the manganese. Or a hydrant is open nearby. Depends on which brochure. Either way, it’s an aesthetic problem, not something to for an environmentally savvy Davis resident to worry about.

Note: In response to my attempts to tour Schilling Robotics, someone named mqueen e-mailed SN&R the following: “You must be a newbie here if you don’t know who the Schillings are and why one of their offspring would want to open a business in Davis.”

Excellent reading, my friend. I am indeed a newbie. That’s the theme of this column.