San Antonio Water System
San Antonio has one of the largest municipal water systems in the country, with more than 11,000 miles of potable water and sewer pipes. San Antonio Water System (SAWS) has about 500,000 account holders whose bills average about $30 for residential customers. In order for the city to approve water rate increases, SAWS must ensure that vulnerable customers are able to afford their water and avoid shutoffs. As a result, the utility offers eight affordability programs for water and sewer services.
San Antonio Water System introduced an array of assistance services to protect at-risk customers from shutoffs as rates increase. These include discounts, plumbing repairs, and fee waivers. Detailed eligibility criteria account for the complex socioeconomic factors that make water unaffordable; for example, fee waivers are available to senior citizens, people with disabilities, and victims of domestic violence. The programs include direct payment assistance (Affordability Discount and Project Agua) fee waivers (Senior Citizen Billing, Disability Billing, Domestic Violence Victim), courtesy notices (Courtesy Notice for Medical Necessity and Courtesy Notice for Veterans), and a conservation program (Plumbers to People). With just a single application, customers can select all programs for which they might be eligible. The total assistance provided through these programs is estimated to be approximately $3.2 million in 2016, or almost 0.5 percent of SAWS’ total annual revenue.
The utility’s largest program, the Affordability Discount Program, stipulates that low-income residential customers who meet the income eligibility requirements (household income below 120 percent of the federal poverty level) can qualify for a bill discount. The discounts range from $4 to $21 per month and are based on the household size, household income, and type of service provided. To be eligible, a recipient’s monthly water use must remain below 17,500 gallons (the average household uses 8,000 gallons per month). An estimated 60,000 households could qualify for this program, and 18,000 households are currently enrolled. SAWS is working to increase enrollment through targeted outreach, aiming to increase its reach to 30,000 households, or about 50 percent of the current identified population, within the next 5 years.