North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce Endorses SAWS Rate Adjustment to Pay for Vista Ridge Project
On October 27, 2015, the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors voted to support the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) rate adjustment to pay for critical infrastructure investments, including the Vista Ridge Pipeline Project. Vista Ridge is a 142-mile pipeline that will bring fresh water to San Antonio from the Carrizo and Simsboro aquifers located in Burleson County. The project helps diversify San Antonio’s water resources and secures a safe and reliable water supply for decades to come.
After a series of negotiating sessions, public meetings and discussions involving SAWS and the pipeline developer, an agreement was reached in October 2014 with built-in protections for SAWS and its ratepayers. The San Antonio City Council unanimously voted in support of the project last year and will be voting November 19 on a rate adjustment to help pay for the project and other water and sewer infrastructure investments.
“Like many of our North Chamber members, I am a SAWS customer, and I appreciate the due diligence SAWS and our city leadership have taken to divert financial risk away from ratepayers through the Vista Ridge agreement,” says Rob Killen, 2015 Chairman of the Board. The agreement stipulates that SAWS only pays for the water that is made available, and at a firm fixed price for 30 years, after which time all of the infrastructure and water leases would be transferred to SAWS ownership.
With San Antonio’s population projected to grow by one million people over the next 25 years, Vista Ridge is vital for job growth and economic development. Twenty years after a federal court ruling limited the amount of water San Antonio can pump from the Edwards Aquifer, our city is still heavily reliant on the aquifer as its primary source of water. Vista Ridge will help alleviate dependence on the Edwards Aquifer while enhancing protection for habitats dependent on the aquifer.
Support for the rate adjustment and the Vista Ridge project is also based on the needs of our military installations that could be vulnerable in upcoming rounds of base realignments and closures. A recent agreement between SAWS and Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA) will allow the construction of pipelines and other infrastructure to deliver water to five military installations around San Antonio, safeguarding the military missions.
The SAWS rate adjustment will support water diversification beyond Vista Ridge, including a brackish groundwater desalination project in South Bexar County. Beyond Vista Ridge, the rate adjustment will contribute to sewer system improvements aimed at reducing sewage spills and other capital improvements required for sustaining and restoring antiquated facilities.
SAWS is a nationally recognized leader in conservation and is committed to continuing those efforts. A new, tiered rate structure seeks to promote conservation while keeping San Antonio’s rates under those of the largest cities in Texas. But conservation alone is not enough. Drought, climate change, a growing population and competition for scarce water resources across the state require us to think long-term about how and where we get our water.
While paying for the diversification of water resources and infrastructure will require a rate adjustment that will increase rates for many SAWS customers, SAWS has expanded affordability programs to help shield low-income ratepayers. The new rate structure expands a “lifeline” rate while sending price signals out earlier to high-volume users.
Despite a rate increase for some customers, SAWS ratepayers will still continue to pay the lowest rates of any major city in Texas. Along with being a leader in conservation, SAWS has been a good steward of public dollars. Ratepayers can be confident that the proposed rate adjustment is needed and that SAWS will effectively manage these important investments to secure San Antonio’s water future.
The North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce has a long history as an advocate for business-friendly initiatives and legislation, as well as infrastructure improvements that contribute to better quality of life. For more information on the North SA Chamber, please visit www.northsachamber.com
Rob Killen is the 2015 Chairman of the Board of Directors of the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and partner at Kaufman & Killen, Inc.