Clean Water Act Settlement Follows San Antonio Water System CEO Bonus

Yesterday, the SAWS Board of Directors agreed to give its CEO, Robert Puente, a $72,000 “performance award” on top of his annual $325,187 salary. The bonus was given in part for his leadership in overseeing the integration of the Bexar Metropolitan Water District, according to the Express-News.

Today, the U.S. EPA and Department of Justice announced the city-owned utility has settled with the feds for long-standing failures in preventing sewage spills across the region. SAWS agreed to pay a $2.6-million civil penalty and spend $1.1 billion to upgrade its failing infrastructure.

SAWS had announced the settlement originally last month, with Puente saying at the time: “This agreement is designed for the most cost-effective use of ratepayer dollars and avoids costly federal litigation. … It will improve service to our ratepayers.”

Express-News environmental journalist Colin McDonald writes of Puente’s bonus:

It is the only executive bonus to be awarded this year at SAWS, which is under pressure by the San Antonio City Council to become more efficient.

The utility has proposed rate increases every year for the next four years to pay for new water projects and improving the city’s sewer system, but still has some of the lowest water and sewer rates in the state.

According to the EPA/DOJ:

The Justice Department, on behalf of EPA, filed a complaint against SAWS alleging that between 2006 and 2012, SAWS had approximately 2,200 illegal overflows from its sanitary sewer system that discharged approximately 23 million gallons of raw sewage into local waterways in violation of its CWA discharge permit. The cause of these overflows stems largely from system capacity problems that result in the sewer system being overwhelmed by rainfall, causing it to discharge untreated sewage combined with storm water into local waterways. EPA confirmed these violations during a 2011 field inspection and record review. 

The proposed consent decree can be viewed online at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.

More information about the settlement: http://www2.epa.gov/enforcement/san-antonio-water-system-saws-settlement.

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