Rate, fee increase to help build resilience

Rate, fee increase to help build resilience
Posted on 01/13/2022
The final piece of pipe being installed on the Frontera wastewater line.

With the Public Service Board’s approval Jan. 12, El Paso Water will proceed with a 9% increase in water rates, a 13% increase in wastewater rates and 9% increase in stormwater fees to build resilience after last year’s challenges, including record rainfall events and the Frontera wastewater emergency.

The combined $877 million FY2022-23 budget will result in an increase of $6.37 a month on the typical residential bill beginning March 1, the start of the fiscal year.

Focus on capital improvements

EPWater’s capital improvements program is the main driver in the combined water, wastewater and stormwater budgets, said President/CEO John Balliew. With an emphasis on safety, reliability and resilience, the utility will move to reinforce infrastructure overdue for upgrades and expand systems to sustain city growth.  

“Part of what we are doing with this budget is responding to input from our community and customers,” Balliew told PSB members. “The public wants to see progress quicker. Material costs are rising, and contract labor costs are going up as well. We want to make our systems more reliable, so we need to be more proactive in our investments.”

Stormwater mapThe FY2022-23 budget reflects a sizable increase in water, wastewater and stormwater capital projects to meet the demands of a growing community and to stay ahead of the curve. The vast majority of the $538 million capital budget for water and wastewater focuses on system reliability. The stormwater budget of $70 million accelerates completion of Stormwater Master Plan projects to 10 years rather than 20.

Other budget funding priorities include:

  • securing the city’s future water supplies, to include Aquifer Storage and Recovery, the Advanced Water Purification Facility and an expansion of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant.
  • boosting modernization efforts to upgrade technology to improve efficiency and increase customer satisfaction. For example, 20,000 smart meters will be installed in the first of a multi-year effort.
  • improving resiliency to manage extreme weather events in compliance with new state standards. To meet Texas Senate Bill 3 requirements, EPWater added $50 million to the budget.
  • prioritizing areas with high flood risk to improve public safety. Plans are in place to add and improve ponds, dams and channels.

The aftermath of the recent destructive monsoon season and the Frontera wastewater emergency forced a reprioritization of projects, and additional investment is necessary to address expensive infrastructure issues that have become urgent, Balliew said. 

Keeping rates down

After Mayor Oscar Leeser raised concerns about a rate increase coming during a pandemic, Balliew explained that EPWater is also dealing with price increases as a result. Costs for chemicals to treat water and other supplies have climbed during the pandemic.

“There have been a deliberate series of decisions over the past 20-30 years to keep rates low,” Balliew said. “Now, we are at a point where there are things that have to be done, and we have to catch up.”

“I get what you are saying Mayor,” PSB member Chris Antcliff said during the meeting. “As the consumer advocate, I have pushed back on rate increases in the past. But today, given where the utility is and what our ratepayers are demanding of us, I don’t see that we have any choice but to move forward.”

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