News Feature | July 31, 2014

Should Wastewater Utilities Own The Water They Treat After Its Discharged?

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


Texas regulators appear to be shooting down an unconventional proposal by a utility to take ownership of the water it treats.

The logic behind the original proposal, per the Texas Tribune: "Every year, the San Antonio Water System treats close to 33 billion gallons of wastewater and discharges it into the San Antonio River. (Another 8 billion gallons are treated and used by golf courses and industrial customers.) Because Texas water law says all surface water is owned by the state, the city effectively cedes ownership of it once it is released into the river." 

A spokesman for the utility in the report: “What we’d like to do is to get authorization to retain ownership of that water, even after it’s put into the river. We do own that asset. Our ratepayers own that asset." 

But it does not look like the proposal is gaining much traction. State regulators say they do not think the plan can move forward, the Texas Tribune said in a later report. A staff member at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality let the utility down in a letter

"Staff believes that TCEQ does not have authority under statute to issue a permit based on this application," the letter said, per the news report. 

The utility did not accept this analysis. Steve Kosub, an attorney for the water system, said the utility "wholeheartedly disagrees" with this position. 

"He said that staff's interpretation of water law only applies to wastewater flows that are derived from uses of surface water; by contrast, San Antonio's water comes from the Edwards Aquifer, and groundwater is regulated completely differently," the report said. 

The utility is not giving up hope. 

“The letter was just the first communication from the staff. This is the start of the process, by no means the end of the process," Kosub said. 

Image credit: "Paradise RIver," brewbooks © 2014, used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license:

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