The San Antonio Water System’s board of trustees unanimously approved the utility’s legislative agenda for the upcoming session on Tuesday and said goodbye to a longtime SAWS MVP.

SAWS hopes to use the session to support the continued development of “stable, equitable and efficient” water supply projects across the state, help expand eligibility for a state infrastructure grant program and support efforts to improve the reliability and resiliency of the state’s electric grid.

Texas’ 88th legislative session begins on Jan. 10 and will run through the end of May. The state will have an extra $27 billion in its coffers in 2023 — in total, lawmakers will have $149 billion in general funds — which legislators say they want to use for property tax cuts and infrastructure improvements to the state’s roads, water systems and internet broadband.

“So this session … everybody’s got their hand out, including us,” said Blaire Parker, SAWS senior governmental and external relations coordinator. “Since SAWS is largely a groundwater-based utility, every session one of our legislative priorities is to watch for groundwater legislation and to make sure that there’s a reliable and flexible regulatory environment so that we can all do our jobs.”

SAWS’ lobbying team generally focuses on the Texas Senate’s water, agriculture and rural affairs committee and on the House’s natural resources committee.

This session, one of SAWS’ goals is to see the Defense Economic Adjustment Assistance Grant program extended so that SAWS can directly apply for it, Parker said. This state-funded infrastructure grant program is designed to “help defense communities that have been positively or negatively impacted by a change or announced change by the Department of Defense.”

Right now, SAWS has to apply for this program in a roundabout way, working with the city and Alamo Area Council of Governments to apply for it, but would like to see that process streamlined, Parker said.

The utility is also still focused on winterizing its infrastructure and will continue to work with state legislators to make sure SAWS meets new post-Winter Storm Uri regulations, Parker said. Earlier this year, SAWS and CPS Energy announced they would be partnering to assure SAWS’ most critical pump stations are connected to backup generators.

Prior to the board’s vote, trustee Amy Hardberger noted she would like SAWS to also pay attention this legislative session to any movements from the state government to restrict the limitations and authority of groundwater conservation districts such as the Edwards Aquifer Authority.

Hardberger also said she would like see counties given more authority to manage some of the land use issues that significantly impact water. She added she also wants to see SAWS and municipal utilities continue to fight privatization, a goal of some state leaders.

The SAWS board also once again said farewell to the utility’s Chief Operating Officer Steve Clouse, who will be officially retiring for the second time at the end of this year.

SAWS outgoing COO Steve Clouse.
Retiring SAWS Chief Operating Officer Steve Clouse in 2018, at his first retirement celebration. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Clouse had a 33-year career with SAWS when he initially retired from the utility in 2018. In 2019, SAWS renamed the Dos Rios wastewater treatment plant after him; it’s now the Steven M. Clouse Water Recycling Center.

Having a sewage plant named after you might not seem like an honor to some, but Clouse is proud of SAWS’ accomplishments at the plant, particularly on the environmental side.

The treated wastewater the plant generates is reused throughout the city via a network of purple pipes. Sewage sludge left over from the process is recycled for compost, and leftover methane gas is processed and put into a pipeline to be sent to market.

Related: With retirement of COO Steve Clouse, SAWS loses fount of knowledge

Clouse returned to SAWS after just 11 months, however, after his successor departed for the private sector. He ultimately helped lead the utility through the coronavirus pandemic and the fallout from Winter Storm Uri in February 2021.

“I’m not sure I’d have come back if I would have known that within the next three-year period, we’d have COVID, Winter Storm Uri and we’d live through one of the driest years in recorded history,” Clouse said jokingly before he praised SAWS for how it has handled all three major events.

“I give that credit to CEO Robert [Puente], who does an amazing job, and give that credit to you, the board, who has the vision and keeps us really addressing the long-term views in the community,” he said.

SAWS board Chairwoman Jelynne LeBlanc Jamison congratulated Clouse on his retirement and thanked him for his years of dedication to SAWS.

“Steve, congratulations on a well-earned, well-deserved retirement,” LeBlanc Jamison said. “I personally want to say what an outstanding career you’ve had. It’s truly been my privilege to have worked with you and to see how you’ve contributed to this community.”

Avatar photo

Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.