SAN ANTONIO -

In a 10-1 vote Thursday, the San Antonio City Council approved the San Antonio Water System’s 5.1 percent rate increase request for 2014.

The rate hike will add approximately $2.58 to the average residential bill.

It will go into effect beginning Jan. 1, 2014.

The council also approved SAWS’ request to raise rates by no more than 5.3 percent in 2015.

“I think it's reasonable,” said District 7 Councilman Cris Medina, of the proposal. “It’s not one more penny than you all need and I think you all have been efficient."

SAWS originally planned to request an increase of 13.1 percent, but the public utility found approximately $10 million in savings, which dropped the rate increase to just over 5 percent.

“We challenged SAWS to be more efficient, make cuts even as the number of customers has grown, and SAWS has accomplished that,” said Mayor Julian Castro.

The additional revenue will be used to bring several major water projects online, meet Environmental Protection Agency standards, and fight sewage spills.

“We have to have these rate increases because we're legally bound to do it. We're legally bound to correct a series of problems within a certain period of time,” said District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal. “If we don’t, the legal consequences and the consequences to our constituents are far worse than what we're facing now.”

In light of the increase, SAWS plans to increase funding for its affordability programs by $2.5 million.

During the council meeting, SAWS officials admitted that even more rate increases could be coming after 2015.

Officials cited the city’s continued growth and the need for infrastructure upgrades to meet federal standards as reasons why the utility needs to increase rates.

President and CEO Robert Puente promised that officials would continue to find efficiencies in their operating and maintenance budget.

“All of these items that bring our rate increase down for 2014 will be aggressively pursued in 2015,” Puente said. “Frankly, part of the reason we're asking for a two-year rate increase is to continue those efficiency measures that we think will continue on in 2015.”

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