10 thoughts on “SAWS Impact Fees Represent More than Meets the Eye

  1. This community discussion should also include consideration of how these impact fees and other fee structures can be implemented to shape and manage future growth. Currently, SAWS does not distinguish between growth on the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone and less environmentally sensitive areas, despite the fact that the State imposes some rather costly regulations on infrastructure in the Recharge Zone.

    For example, camera testing is required at regular intervals for sewage lines on the Recharge Zone. The cost of compliance with these requirements is estimated at $37,000/mile every five years. Currently, this cost is borne by all SAWS rate payers. Until such time as a more equitable method of financing inspections and other measures needed to protect the Recharge Zone are implemented, all SAWS rate payers are subsidizing the cost of growth where we least want it.

    Because of the threat to the aquifer, the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance would like to see new contracts for SAWS wastewater service curtailed on the Recharge Zone. The cost to all of us, should growth continue in this area, may amount to more than we ever imagined.

    At this time, when San Antonio is considering the acquisition of expensive new water supplies, we have the opportunity to discuss and implement policies that can predicate water conservation practices, environmental protection, and how San Antonio can grow in a sustainable manner. We ask that these issues be a part of the discussion as we move forward in expanding SAWS supplies and service.

  2. Might one option be to choose an impact fee somewhere between the low and high ends with the understanding that only xeriscaping or other water efficient landscaping practices be used in new developments? The would prohibit the installation of turf and conventional irrigation systems to artificially keep grass alive. The majority of water consumed by residential customers is through landscape irrigation and, coupled with indoor conservation, this would serve to curb the increase in necessary supply.

    Developers will cite higher upfront costs, but the option would be between this and higher impact fees. Plus, innovation can help bring down the cost of complying with new landscaping rules. Why charge a higher fee while still allowing water waste when it can be partially addressed on the demand side? It seems inevitable that San Antonio and the rest of South Central Texas will have to embrace more water efficient landscaping. With the region experiencing unprecedented growth there is a need to begin addressing this long-neglected issue.

    • Aaron — I completely agree that something like what you propose is possible and I would love to see that happen. I actually advocated for an intermediate number without success, which is why I am now a proponent for the maximum number. The other option is simply too low. One of the challenges with what you suggest is that this negotiation would have to occur outside SAWS and requires city leadership. It is this big picture thinking that is needed. Until now, impact fees have been seen as a stand-alone issue, but as you note, they can and should be used to discuss land use ordinances. My hope is that now that the fee finally increased to a number that will compel developers to come to the table and have a discussion about large-scale practices and how to bring down the bottom line for everyone.

  3. After watching the discussion on this issue at city council, it was my understanding the impact fee is not applied universally to all projects, but based on the actual impact that project has on infrastructure costs. If that’s the case, it seems there are already important incentives in the proposed impact fees. The idea of xeriscaping as part of the assessment of the imposed impact fee for a specific project could be used even if the maximum impact fee were approved. Likewise, as was explained at council, development in an area where there is less impact would be subject to a smaller fee. That serves as an incentive to accommodate future growth in the existing city limits, which is an objective of the Comprehensive Master Plan Framework.

    • Kevin — I wasn’t able to attend the latest council meeting so I can’t respond to your exact reference, but there appears to be some confusion. The impact fee for water supply is the same for any new build using a standard size meter, which will be installed in the vast majority of homes. Some very large homes may have an over-sized meters or 2 meters installed, which would cost more. As far as impact fees as a whole, there are some variations on the waste water components of the fee based on proximity to pump stations etc. , but there is no variation of the fee based on the actual home impacts such as size of home, amount of lawn etc. To my knowledge, there is no legal way to do this because government code would prohibit it; therefore, incentives would have to come from other programs or areas. I hope that helps.

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