Thursday, December 1 2022

More than three-quarters of San Antonio’s water system residential customers could see a reduction in their water bills next year if a new rate structure recommended by a SAWS Ratepayer Committee is approved by the San Antonio Board of Directors. public service this fall.

A SAWS official presented the SAWS board on Tuesday with a new rate structure suggested by the utility rate advisory committee. Under the proposal, up to 83% of residential customers would see a reduction in their monthly water bill, and all residential customers would see a reduction in their monthly wastewater bill.

The proposed structure would also charge large water users – both residential and commercial – an increased percentage, with the aim of encouraging these users to use less water.

“Historically, we take seriously what [rate advisory committee] suggests – that’s what they’re here for,” said Mary Bailey, vice president of customer experience for SAWS. “Their goal was to come up with these recommendations based on their review, and so historically the board has accepted those recommendations moving forward.”

Under this structure, a resident’s combined water and wastewater bill would be reduced by 8.4%, said rate advisory committee chair Frances Gonzalez. Fixed fees for most customers would also drop by more than 20%, she added.

The new rate structure would also change how the utility’s assistance program for eligible low-income customers is delivered. The affordability reduction program would become similar to the normal rate structure in that it would be a tiered system dependent on the amount of water used by the customer. Still, all customers enrolled in the current ADP program would see a reduction in their monthly bills, Gonzalez said. Their bill reductions will range from 33% to 57% depending on water usage, she said.

Lower residents’ bills would depend on the amount of water they use. SAWS officials clarified that a change in the tariff structure is not the same as an increase or decrease in tariffs; it is simply a change in the way SAWS calculates what customers will owe.

“People who are going to pay more will feel like they got a rate increase, right?” Bailey said. “And the people who are going to pay less – hopefully they see this as a rate reduction.”

SAWS President Jelynne LeBlanc Jamison and Administrator Amy Hardberger indicated their support for the proposed structure, as it comes at a time when many residents are struggling financially.

To get more information about what residents think of the proposed new structure, the utility will hold community meetings, visit neighborhood associations and solicit feedback via social media, Bailey said. After gathering feedback and making any necessary adjustments, SAWS staff plans to submit the new structure to the board for approval in November. The city council will also need to approve the structure for it to go into effect in January.

Going to step 3?

The discussion on a new rate structure comes at a time when customers in the South are seeing record electricity bills due to the extreme heat the region is experiencing, and persistent drought conditions have raised water supply issues in some regions.

On Tuesday, SAWS officials discussed the need for further conservation action due to ongoing drought conditions.

Hardberger asked SAWS Director of Water Conservation Karen Guz and Chief Financial Officer Doug Evanson about why the utility hasn’t declared Phase 3 water restrictions with the Edwards Aquifer Authority.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” Guz said. “In my 21 years here I’ve been through quite a few droughts, and my experience has been that when we start [with water restrictions] it just takes a little time to get everyone to take the action we need.

SAWS customers are still adjusting to Stage 2 watering restrictions, Guz said. Although the SAWS has taken steps to enforce compliance – including hiring 10 additional part-time officers to help issue citations to offenders – it’s about the same as past events in the Stage 2, Guz said.

“I would like to see the savings from this full compliance, because it seems inherently fairer to make everyone comply with the rules today than to impose what are going to be really difficult rules if we’re going to step 3,” Guz says.

Due to the heat, the utility is experiencing a record number of leaks and broken pipes, Guz told administrators. The utility saw nearly 700 this summer, up from about 200 last summer.

That’s because the region’s clay soil shifts and cracks when the heat dries it out, Guz said. With little rain, the ground is drier than usual and causes shifting that destabilizes the pipes, she said, making them more susceptible to ruptures.

Because SAWS can’t send its workers to work for long periods in the extreme heat of the day, leaks take longer to fix, Guz said. She and SAWS staff asked residents to be patient after reporting a leak.

“We appreciate being told it’s there, but we just want to let people know that there’s a lot going on behind the scenes after getting that call,” SAWS spokeswoman Anne Hayden said. .

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