In a unanimous vote, San Antonio City Council approved water rate increases to pay for a host of upgrades and projects, including the controversial 142-mile Vista Ridge Pipeline.
A coalition of groups aggressively tried to convince City Council to vote against the rate increase or to postpone the vote.
The San Antonio Water System's rate increase means water bills could double by 2020. The vote also means SAWS' water and wastewater rate structures will change into a tiered system where "the price of each gallon of water depends upon the household's usage." Residents who use less than 3,000 gallons during a monthly billing cycle will receive the lowest rates, and SAWS promised to expand and promote an affordability discount for low-income customers.
“I know that many people are living on tight budgets and any increase in expenses, no matter how small, can make a big difference,” Mayor Ivy Taylor says in a press release. “I believe that the approved rate change package has been structured in such a way as to minimize impact on the most vulnerable residents in our community and in a way that supports one of our most important goals — the conservation of water.”
The rate increase, in addition to upgrading sewer and water infrastructure, will pay for water supply projects like desalination, aquifer storage and recovery and the $3.4 billion Vista Ridge Pipeline.
Opponents say the Vista Ridge Pipeline amounts to a water grab and will harm low-income consumers in San Antonio. Additionally, opponents, who include hydrologists, have said the pipeline will result in harmful drawdown in the aquifers it's pumping from. A firm hired by the Vista Ridge Consortium says the opposite. City Council and SAWS say the project provides a much-need supply of water to meet estimated population growth that would double how many people live in San Antonio.
“Vista Ridge is essential to meeting our water needs of the future. Not planning for growth doesn’t mean we won’t grow — it just means we will be unprepared to meet the demands of tomorrow’s families and businesses,” Taylor says. “As a community we need a common vision of prosperity that encourages sustainable growth, and today’s vote supports that.”
Councilman Ron Nirenberg said in a statement that his yes vote is not a rubber stamp for the project.
"Today is one of those opportunities, and this vote is not as a rubber stamp. It is another opportunity to perform the kind of due diligence that a decision of this magnitude requires," Nirenberg said. "The essential reason for reassessing a project of this size, scope, and cost is that we all have a chance – rather, an obligation – to integrate new and critical information into the calculus."
Councilman Joe Krier said his yes vote was the right thing to do.
“Paying for all of these projects ensures that when our residents turn on their taps 20 or 30 years from now, they can count on water flowing out. Major employers need the same assurance. They will invest in our city, creating the jobs we need to prosper, only if they are convinced that our water future is secure," Krier says in a press release.
Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran said SAWS needs to be held accountable during every step in the process, which includes a six-month review.
“Affordability and accountability are serious fundamental considerations for me while considering SAWS financial projections. This is a significant vote. It is our responsibility to ensure water remains affordable to our citizens," Viagran says in a press release. "This plan is the right move to protect the Edwards Aquifer, provide a reliable source of water for families and fix our old and crumbling sewer pipelines, which are critically needed on the Southside.”
To see how the water rates will affect you, use this calculator SAWS has on its website
and follow the instructions.