The Sacred Garden. Photo courtesy of San Antonio Water System /
The Sacred Garden. Photo courtesy of San Antonio Water System /

Public awareness and education campaigns – effective ones, anyway – can be very expensive propositions. Rather than stretch out its limited resources to hire more staff members and purchase materials, San Antonio Water System will pay local nonprofits and organizations to promote its water conservation programs across the city.

The SAWS board approved seven contracts, so-called “performance agreements,” on Wednesday morning that are worth up to $1.25 million combined. Over the next 2.5 years, seven organizations will essentially be paid to continue or enhance their own water conservation programming that has been pre-approved by SAWS staff.

Here’s a list of the performance agreements awarded and respective amounts:

Bexar County Master Gardeners: $237,500

Build San Antonio Green: $175,000

Garden Volunteers of South Texas: $237,500

Green Spaces Alliance of South Texas: $100,000

National Audubon Society/Mitchell Lake Audubon Center: $150,000

San Antonio Botanical Garden Society: $212,500

William R. Sinkin Eco Centro: $137,500

These amounts reflect the maximum available amount per organization. They could use all, some, or none of it. The latter is highly unlikely as the amount approved for each organization is loosely based on existing programming they already have or could easily start.

“But we’re not just giving them money,” SAWS Director of Conservation Karen Guz told the board. “There is a deliverable that we expect to have delivered.”

Those deliverables include a menu of seminars, workshops, presentations, tours, neighborhood events, and more. For each activity, the organization is paid a pre-approved amount that is modified according to how many people attended the event. The event and impact must be well documented, Guz said, because “payment is proportional to the impact (the activities) have on our customers.”

In 2014, about 154,000 SAWS customers were reached with information about conservation efforts.

“We couldn’t possibly get to 150,000 without the help of these partners,” Guz said, who attributed 20% of those interactions to SAWS’ 20-person conservation department staff.

SAWS has granted similar contracts with four of the seven organizations before, but this is the first time that Build San Antonio Green, Eco Centro, and Green Spaces Alliance have been awarded the unique contracts. The Master Gardeners were the first to sign up for a similar arrangement in 1994, when SAWS first started to have serious discussions about the myriad ways to get customers to conserve water.

By partnering with organizations outside of the traditional water world, SAWS hopes to reach a wider audience that is concerned about effective water use or water quality for different reasons.

Whether they’re interested in birds, gardens, sustainable buildings, gardening, land use or solar, “we’ll find them there … to connect in a meaningful way with the customers we serve,” Guz said.

Funding for these performance agreements comes from SAWS Conservation budget which is funded by a portion of residential water sales (SAWS customers that use the most water pay extra per acre-foot) and commercial customer meter fees.

Top image: The Sacred Garden. Photo courtesy of San Antonio Water System /

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Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...