SAN ANTONIO – Every month, the Defenders receive calls and emails from residents about their San Antonio Water System bill.
Many SAWS customers receive sudden unexplained bill hikes followed by back-to-normal activity. There was an explosion in those complaints in 2015 and we've followed the developments since then.
Bills ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars landed in residents mailboxes in 2015. That’s when the Defenders started asking questions of the city's only water company.
SAWS assured folks then that their issues would be fixed.
"Did that happen under your leadership?" Huertas asked.
"It happened because we were being pushed to keep our cost as low as possible," SAWS CEO Robert Puente said.
Puente said the changes started happening as soon as they put up the help-wanted sign and hired more employees.
"We hired a whole lot more people in the meter reading department and we had just made too many cuts there," Puente said. "We also outsourced some of the work where we have an outside company that helps us read the meters."
While things are changing, Puente said calls continue flowing in about billing mistakes. Some he handles directly.
"We try to decipher what the problem is -- do some kind of testing. We offer home audits. We will go out there and see if they have any leaks. Sometimes it's a simple accounting mistake, but whatever it is we look into it, we fix it, and hopefully at the end of the day we have a happy customer," Puente said.
KSAT requested several years of water meter reading data from SAWS. In July 2015, about 35,000 meters were not read, spiking to almost 60,000 the very next month.
While the numbers are down, SAWS data shows there are over a thousand still not being read.
Puente said these issues have been addressed. He said meter readers are reading 99.6 percent of the more than a half-million meters reach each month.
In addition, SAWS is considering in a pilot program for automated readers, a multimillion-dollar project that will have to be approved by the SAWS board.
"An automatic read that comes through the internet, through a web base system where we don't have to send out meter readers, where essentially it's just read somewhat like CPS Energy is doing. It's a very costly proposition," Puente said.
This leads back to your water bill: How will this affect you? Puente said the cost will be part of SAWS' budget, which is supported by the rates paid by customers.
Building back customers trust, Puente said, is the utility's No. 1 priority.
"Is there a message for the community who maybe lost trust in SAWS in the past?" Huertas asked.
"I hope not," Puente said. "What really will allow to trust SAWS or retain their trust in SAWS is when they get up in the morning, and water comes out of their water head and their toilet, and they don't have to give any thought to it. That is what I really want to some extent."
SAWS provided details on how many water meters have been replaced since 2015:
- January 2015: 821
- February 2015: 989
- March 2015: 1,924
- April 2015: 3,614
- May 2015: 4,231
- June 2015: 4,173
- July 2015: 4,314
- August 2015: 5,820
- September 2015: 6,041
- October 2015: 2,440
- November 2015: 2,420
- December 2015: 3,349
- 2015 Total: 40,136
- January 2016: 2,158
- February 2016: 3,325
- March 2016: 2,620
- April 2016: 1,594
- May 2016: 1,315
- June 2016: 781
- July 2016: 516
- August 2016: 702
- September 2016: 1,102
- October 2016: 1,291
- November 2016: 1,296
- December 2016: 764
- 2016 Total: 17,464
- January 2017: 636
- February 2017: 567
- March 2017: 1,544
- April 2017: 2,034
- May 2017: 2,158
- June 2017: 2,299
- July 2017: 2,409
- August 2017: 3,057
- September 2017: 2,668
- 2017 Total (so far): 17,372