LIVERMORE -- Residents who use city water and don't cut back on consumption by at least 30 percent will pay more on their bills under new emergency rates taking effect Tuesday.

Livermore became the East Bay's first city to raise water rates in response to ongoing drought conditions and shortages when the City Council voted unanimously Monday to enact the third stage of the city's conservation plan.

City officials said the move -- implemented in three tiers and aimed primarily at higher-volume users -- comes not as a punitive measure, but as a motivator to get residents to conserve.

"The main reason conservation rates are in place is to send an economic signal to the customer -- to hit them in the pocketbook a little bit and get their attention to cut their use now," said Assistant Public Works Director Darren Greenwood.

The Livermore Municipal Water utility serves about 28,000 residents. City representatives said under the new rates, the average customer who doesn't conserve any water will pay about 35 percent -- or about $22 per month -- more than they would have under normal rates. Residents who cut usage back by at least 30 percent will actually see a slight decrease in their water bills, Greenwood said.

"As long as (outdoor watering is limited to) two days a week and half of the volume you would put in a normal year, you should hit the 30 percent overall," he said.

The new rate structure -- aimed at helping the city cut outdoor use in half and cut indoor use by 5 percent -- will likely remain in place until at least September, city officials said, when the State Water Project is expected to raise its allocation to the Zone 7 Water Agency.


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"In the Tri-Valley, because 80 percent of our water comes from the State Water Project and that water supply has been extremely limited this summer, we find ourselves in a water supply bind unlike most of the rest of the Bay Area," said Livermore Public Works Director Dan McIntyre. "Presuming that nothing unexpectedly adverse happens, we think with this conservation level that we're going to make it."

The city will consider exemptions, through a rebate or credit, for low-volume customers who use about 3,700 gallons or less per month. An interim policy will be in place before the issue returns to the council.

"We don't want to punish those people who make (conservation) their lifestyle," said Livermore Mayor John Marchand.

Other Tri-Valley cities may soon join Livermore in adopting conservation rates. The Dublin/San Ramon Services District and Pleasanton City Council will consider similar measures on May 5 and 6, respectively.

"Conservation is a Tri-Valley wide thing," McIntyre said. "It's not like one or two cities can do it and it's going to work. ... Everybody's got to contribute."

Besides higher rates, Livermore has also adopted mandatory restrictions on water use, including limiting irrigation to odd or even days and requiring buckets and restrictive nozzles on hoses while washing cars. Enforcement of the measures will be complaint-driven, city officials said, with a formal warning on a first violation and a $100 fine for a second offense, but only following an extensive public information campaign.

Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.