Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report
The San Antonio Water System board of trustees on Tuesday unanimously approved a 5.8 percent rate increase for the coming year, along with a $781.8 million operating budget.
Average residential water bills in 2018 will rise to around $65.69, a $3.45 increase from this year's average of $62.24. In 2019, bills will increase by 4.7 percent to an average of $68.63.
SAWS officials emphasized during the board meeting that the rate increase, which City Council will vote on Thursday, collects funds to address necessary infrastructure maintenance.
When the budget was presented to the board in September, officials said a portion of the 2018 dollars would go toward the $1.1 billion needed to make parts of the city's sewer system compliant with Environmental Protection Agency regulations. The proposed budget allocates nearly $339 million for operations and maintenance.
"I wish we hadn't needed to raise rates, [but] I also can honestly say I believe we have minimized our rate request to the maximum extent possible," said Doug Evanson, SAWS chief financial officer and senior vice president.
If approved on Thursday, the rate increase would take effect in January 2018 and be reflected on bills starting in February. SAWS' 2018 rates are lower than those projected in other major Texas cities, such as Fort Worth ($71.57), Houston ($89.30), and Austin reach ($112.47). The average water bill in Dallas in 2017 was around $61.76.
Two citizens spoke against the rate increase during Tuesday's meeting. Terry Burns, a local Sierra Club representative, said the rate increase is unnecessary and unfair to low-income residents.
"SAWS already has supplies [that are] more than double the demand, and its own prediction for 2070 show average supplies of almost 140,000 acre feet above demand," Burns said. "These data are based on highly aggressive population growth predictions that verge on fantasy, and gross wishful thinking of chamber types seeking profit from endless growth."
Mayor Ron Nirenberg said he supports the rate increase, citing the importance of investing in the city's infrastructure so that the next generation of San Antonians has solid water delivery systems.
"We don't want to continue to kick this can down the road and ask you for a 20 percent rate increase just because we failed to replace the pipes at a reasonable rate," Nirenberg said. "We at some point have to face the reality that we have to maintain the system we've got."