Residents of the Mesa del Norte subdivision Thursday celebrated a settlement that will lower their high base water costs to an affordable level.
The residents, who are represented by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), described the agreement with the Fabens Water District as a “victory” that brings relief after eight years of battling high water rates.
“I spent as much as $130 a month on water, and the expense meant my family often had to choose between water and food,” said Mesa del Norte resident Elsa Rivera, who spoke at a press conference in El Paso this morning. “We have fought long and hard to be charged fair rates. Finally, we will get relief.”
“We are a low-income community, and the high water rates were a terrible hardship for us,” said resident Henry Garcia. “My bills were as high as $160 a month. Meanwhile, people outside of our neighborhood were paying a fraction of that. This settlement feels like a victory that is finally bringing fair play to our community.”
Mesa del Norte residents, who live outside the Fabens Water District but are still served by it, have suffered since 2011 with water rates far higher than those within the Fabens District.
Working with State Senator Jose Rodriguez and State Representative Mary González, residents fought to get the rates reduced. Frustrated by continued inaction, they appealed to Texas’s Public Utility Commission and obtained a settlement in late November.
Under the new agreement, provisions to lower rates will be put into effect by the Fabens District in January 2020. The measures will lower base water rates from $96.16 to $78.42 per month for out-of-district ratepayers served by the Fabens District, including the Mesa del Norte residents.
The $78.42 rate for Mesa del Norte residents is still higher than it is for customers within the Fabens District, but the gap is narrower. The reduction brings the differential down from 75 percent to 40 percent, and the lower gap will be frozen for four years.
Mesa del Norte residents, and other out-of-district customers, will also get a one-time $160 credit from the Fabens District to help offset the exceedingly high rates they were charged between January and May of 2019.
Further, the Lower Valley Water District (LVWD) will give the Mesa del Norte residents a continuing $50 per month credit. That will bring their monthly base water rate down from $78.42 to $28.42. (The LVWD District, where Mesa del Norte is located, has agreed to pay the credit while it is augmenting its facilities so that it can supply residents with water and wastewater services.)
“Mesa del Norte residents have fought for years against back-breaking water rates,” said TRLA attorney Christopher Benoit, who represents the residents. “They organized, stayed united, and built pressure on the water districts until their voices were heard. The settlement now is their hard-earned reward.”