On Wednesday, the Public Service Board (PSB) approved the El Paso Water Budget for fiscal year 2017-18 for its water, wastewater, reclaimed water and stormwater utilities.
The new budget includes rate and fee increases, which translate into an increase of $4.25 per month for a typical homeowner.
The $463.7 million water, wastewater and reclaimed water budget allows El Paso Water to rehabilitate, modernize and expand systems to meet the needs of El Paso’s growing population. The $55 million stormwater budget will help expand flood control projects, maintain the existing stormwater system and continue to set aside 10 percent of funds for dual-purpose ponds and open space projects.
“As El Paso’s population grows, we must continue to diversify our water supply to serve the needs of our City not just for today but for the next generation,” said EPWater President and CEO John Balliew. “Just as important, we must prioritize projects that reduce flood risk in high-traffic areas and that have the potential to save lives and protect private property.”
El Paso’s population is projected to increase more than 40 percent by 2040. The FY 2017-18 water and wastewater budget will fund extending water lines into new areas, building reservoirs and pump stations, and drilling wells to increase reliability and prepare for growth.
EPWater will also take the initial steps towards increasing the capacity of the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Desalination Plant, acquiring additional land for water importation and beginning to design an advanced water purification facility, which will transform treated wastewater into a safe, reliable drinking water supply.
Infrastructure rehabilitation is an equally important part of the budget. El Paso has more than 700 miles of water lines that are 40 years old or older and half of its wells are more than 30 years old. The budget will fund replacing pipelines and rehabilitating several wells. There are also plans to upgrade plants, reservoirs, the International Water Quality Laboratory and security and information systems.
The stormwater budget carries equally important projects. Several projects identified in the estimated $650 million Stormwater Master Plan have been completed, reducing the flood risk and improving public safety. Central El Paso projects have already created 38 million gallons of capacity for flood control, diverting water from streets and highways.
Improvements will continue in Central El Paso, but in 2017-18 focus will shift to major capital improvement projects in the Northeast, Westside and Mission Valley.
EPW officials say that “even with the proposed rate increase, EPWater remains focused on keeping water affordable for El Pasoans through strong financial stewardship.”
“The water and wastewater rate increase for this year was kept to 7 percent due to efficiencies found by staff. Last year, a 5-year financial outlook for the Utility indicated at least an 8 percent rate increase meet budget goals. Staff also found efficiencies in the stormwater budget, decreasing the operating budget by half a million dollars,” they added via an email statement.
This year’s rate structure will also increase the number of customers who could see their monthly water bills go down.
Customers who use less than 4 CCFS (2,992 gallons) per month will have their water supply replacement charge waived.
An estimated 17 percent of customer bills could be eligible for this waiver in a given month, which could enable conservative water users to reduce their monthly bill by about $10 per month, or $120 per year. Previously, the waiver was only available to customers who used less than 3 CCFS (2,244 gallons) per month.
The approved budgets and rates will go into effect at the start of the fiscal year, which begins March 1, 2017.