From left: SAWS President and CEO Robert Puente, Vice President of Communications and External Affairs Gavino Ramos, and COO and Senior Vice President Steve Clouse discuss the action plan for repairing a sinkhole caused by ruptured pipes at Quintana Road in 2016.
From left: SAWS President and CEO Robert Puente, Vice President of Communications and External Affairs Gavino Ramos, and COO and Senior Vice President Steve Clouse discuss the action plan for repairing a sinkhole caused by ruptured pipes at Quintana Road in 2016. Credit: Camille Garcia / San Antonio Report

The San Antonio Water System (SAWS) Board of Trustees unanimously approved the public utility’s $13 million budget for 2017 on Wednesday that includes a lower-than-expected 6.8% rate increase for SAWS customers.

After finding several departmental efficiencies and debt refinancing opportunities, the 7.9% increase approved by City Council last year was reduced, SAWS officials said.

Two-thirds of new revenue from the rate increase will be used to support capital improvement programs including $171 million for sewer main and lift station replacements, $112 million for the integration of the Vista Ridge water pipeline, $6 million for treatment plant improvements, $5.8 million for new water supplies such as the Brackish Water Desalination Plant, and $75 million in main replacements and production upgrades.

More than 30 positions will be added to the SAWS customer service department. The budget also provides for an hourly wage minimum of $14.

The board observed a moment of silence in memory of part-time Bexar County Sheriff’s Deputy Doralinda Nishihara who was killed when her car was engulfed by a large sinkhole on Sunday, Dec. 4.

“The cause (of the sinkhole) is not immediately apparent,” SAWS COO and Senior Vice President Steve Clouse told the board. “We will not speculate until all of the facts are known.”

Crews have been working 24/7 on emptying the sinkhole at 8414 Quintana Rd. of sewage water and will soon connect eight above-ground one-mile pipes to bypass the broken lines.

“It’s still an emergency situation out there,” Clouse said.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org