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San Antonio Considers Emergency Repair Fund For Residents Affected by Winter Storm; SAWS Offers Water Bill Relief

Residents of The Inspire fill buckets with pool water.
Courtesy of Derek Tulowitzky
Residents of The Inspire Downtown fill buckets with pool water.

Beyond the loss of power, the extreme cold weather has created a crisis of busted water pipes, low water pressure and even no service for some parts of the city.

The City of San Antonio is considering an emergency fund for repairs related to the winter storm including busted pipes and other utility damage. The San Antonio Water System is offering a relief plan to all customers who will only have to pay the lower of two bills. There is also an emergency order in place to try and prevent price gouging as residents seek repairs.

Proposed Repair Assistance Fund

During Thursday morning’s San Antonio City Council, Mayor Ron Nirenberg proposed the idea of the relief fund saying after the weather passes there will be heavy needs for repairs.

“We’re dealing with the immediate crisis of getting folks power back on, and water back on but then there’s going to be an infrastructure issue that we’re going to need all hands on deck for,” Nirenberg said. “And we’re going to need federal support but also I think we’re going to need a fund that leads to the near term.”

The city would have to find the money for it. One possible option is using federal money received under the disaster declaration. However, City Manager Erik Walsh said the city would look at all options available including working with the San Antonio Water System and CPS Energy.

“Between FEMA, and local resources we’ll also have that conversation with utilities,” Walsh said.

San Antonio has experience with similar emergency relief plans though its Emergency Housing Assistance Program. That program has spent about $72 million since its creation last year to help with rent and mortgage payments as well as internet and utility bills and cash assistance.

A timeline wasn’t set but Walsh said that he would bring a plan back to the council.

Water Bill Relief

The busted pipes and massive leaks in some areas have residents concerned of enormous water bills. On Thursday, the San Antonio Water System announced a plan to only charge customers the lower of two bills.

Residents will only have to pay an amount equal to last month's charges or this month’s charges, whichever is the lower price.

“This extreme weather event has caused unimaginable hardships, and the last thing our neighbors need to worry about right now is their next water bill,” said SAWS President and CEO Robert R. Puente said in a news release. “These are very trying times for many, and we want to help ease the burden any way we can.”

The plan is designed to offset the cost to cost of unusually high bills related to leaks that occurred in the freeze. It applies to both residential and commercial customers.

SAWS said it would also work with customers who need to go into a payment plan. Currently SAWS is not cutting off water service to any rate payer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Price Gouging Prevention

The city and Bexar County are attempting to stop any price gouging on products and services in Bexar County, including repairs.

Late Wednesday night, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and Nirenberg issued an emergency order against price gouging by repair companies. The order states that prices now must reflect the same price for goods and services seen on Feb. 11.

This applies to groceries, toiletries, restaurant meals, medicine, hotels, motels, gas and other fuels.

As the weather clears it’s likely, contractors and repair companies would be inundated with calls and it could be some time before residents get the repairs they need. Nirenberg said price gouging would not be allowed.

“Every repair company in town is going to be working overtime, they’re going to try to get materials, they’re going to be competitive,” Nirenberg said during the council meeting. “We will go after you if you’re taking advantage of our residents in that regard.”

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Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules