San Antonio's Project Agua Provides Water Bill Relief

At San Antonio Water, employees participate in a program that gives back to the community. Learn how a little goes a long way in helping low-income households.
San Antonio's Project Agua Provides Water Bill Relief
San Antonio's Project Agua serves about 1,000 customers per year, based on eligibility requirements including income, family size, disability and degree of need.

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Few things are as precious to humankind as water. But that water becomes an even more precious commodity when you can’t afford it.

To stem that problem, one major metropolitan Texas water system created a program to help qualified San Antonio residents pay their water utility bills — ensuring access to clean, affordable water. Now in its 15th year, San Antonio Water System’s (SAWS) Project Agua has served 9,700 customers and given almost $1 million dollars in aid.

“SAWS is committed to ensuring that all our customers have access to life-sustaining water and sewer services, says Daniel J. Vargas, communications specialist for SAWS. “And our employees take that commitment to heart, as you can tell by the various ways they participate to raise money for Project Agua.”

In early May, for example, SAWS employees made up about half of the 260 runners in the fourth annual 5K run/walk to support Project Agua. Each year, the run generates $10,000 to $12,000 in net proceeds. Twenty-one corporate sponsors — donating from $500 to $5,000 — joined the cause.

SAWS saw a need
San Antonio — best known for the Alamo and the Riverwalk — is home to about 1.7 million people. According to Carolyn McClure, SAWS intergovernmental and external relations specialist, there was a need in the community for payment assistance.

Project Agua kicked off in 2000 when local businesses such as USAA and benefactors such as billionaire Billy Joe “Red” McCombs, founder of the city’s Red McCombs Automotive Group and co-founder of Clear Channel Communications, provided seed money.

Project Agua serves about 1,000 customers per year, based on eligibility requirements including income, family size, disability, degree of need and other factors as determined by the City of San Antonio Department of Human Services. And the number needing assistance, McClure says, has gone up every year.

According to McClure, SAWS customers can receive a maximum of $115 every 12 months, and the program’s annual disbursement is capped at $100,000.

SAWS operates three treatment facilities — Dos Rios (built in 1987; treats 125 mgd), Medio Creek (built in 1972; treats 16 mgd) and Leon Creek (built in 1965; treats 46 mgd).

San Antonio reuses all three wastewater treatment process byproducts including recycled water, compost and biogas, and the city also boasts the largest direct recycled water system in the nation.

SAWS employees really step to the plate to support Project Agua, says Celina Garza-Alvarez, communications business partner. In addition to participating in the annual run/walk, about 200 of SAWS’ 1,600 employees donate $20,000 to $25,000 annually through a charitable giving campaign. Contributions from SAWS residential and commercial customers also add to Project Agua’s coffers.


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