Thursday, June 2, 2016

SAWS Still Doesn't Really Know How Many People Will Be Shielded From Rate Hike

Posted By on Thu, Jun 2, 2016 at 8:15 AM

click to enlarge SAWS CEO Robert Puente, back before Abengoa announced bankruptcy proceedings. - SAWS | FACEBOOK
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  • SAWS CEO Robert Puente, back before Abengoa announced bankruptcy proceedings.
When City Council approved a San Antonio Water System proposal to double the size of its rate structure last November, officials told ratepayers not to worry, the majority of customers wouldn't be impacted because of a new category that rewards households that don't suck up too much water.

On Wednesday, at a City Council B session, SAWS CEO Robert Puente told local leaders how the utility thinks the new system is even saving many customers money. But still, they don't really know how many people will be spared a rate hike because the weather this year has been so, well, different.

According to Puente, stronger than usual spring rains resulted in people using less water. Facing questions from council about the new rate structure, he said it's not exactly great idea to use numbers from times of above average rainfall since usually Texans are used to drought conditions, he said. Texas experienced drought or drought-like conditions from about 2010 to 2014. 

"The new structure has been in place for three months," Puente said, explaining that, unfortunately, not much meaningful information can be garnered from the last few months. "We need a normal summer or a year or two of normalized weather to give relevant feedback." 

Responding to critics of the rate increase, SAWS officials said 34 percent of customers who used less than 3,000 gallons of water between February and April fell into the lifeline slot. That's more than the 20 percent the utility expected. Approximately 70 percent of consumers used less than 6,000 gallons of water each month. Puente claims all of these customers saw lower water bills.

The remaining customers, households that use 6,000 to 24,000 gallons of water, paid more than they would have in 2015.

And all of the rates, except for the lifeline rate, are more expensive than last year.

SAWS says the rate hike will in part pay for the controversial Vista Ridge pipeline, sewer upgrades and for the completion of a brackish groundwater desalination plant that's expected to be up and running by October.

But this is just the beginning: according to SAWS own projections, by 2020 all water bills are expected to double. 

As for the Vista Ridge pipeline, it's been a turbulent ride. In May, City Council approved a SAWS proposal allowing Garney Construction take over the project. The Spanish company Abengoa originally managed the project, but it's undergoing bankruptcy proceedings.

Garney Construction agreed to absorb a $120 million loan taken out by Abengoa along with paying contractors who have thus far not seen a cent.


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