FREMONT -- After 12 consecutive years of rate increases, water district directors will meet Thursday to consider another hike for customers, including extra penalties for heavy water users.
The agency has proposed a surcharge on bills customers pay every other month to fill a $15 million budget gap that Alameda County Water District leaders blame on the drought.
The shortfall stems from revenue streams that began to dry up after district leaders asked its 336,000 customers in Fremont, Union City and Newark to reduce water use by 20 percent.
They were trying to stretch water supplies that dwindled as the state last year recorded its driest year on record.
In March, the board also declared an emergency water shortage and put mandatory limits on landscape irrigation.
Agency leaders say they tried to balance their upcoming budget -- estimated around $120 million -- by deferring $20 million in construction projects, spending about $10 million from a reserve fund, and making plans to issue a $25 million bond.
"ACWD has taken a number of steps to mitigate the loss in revenue we have seen as a result of the drought," district General Manager Walt Wadlow said.
But when those moves failed to fill fiscal gaps, the agency turned to the surcharge, Wadlow said.
If approved, it would take effect Monday, said spokesman Frank Jahn.
The midyear surcharge on water rates would increase per-gallon charges for customers in single-family residences as they exceed mandated water-use levels.
Most residences pay $3.37 per unit of water, which remains the same no matter how much the customer uses.
But that would change for residents of single-family homes under a new rate structure imposing three separate rates for each two-month billing cycle based on a water unit of 748 gallons:
A flat surcharge of 46 cents, regardless of water use, would be applied to residents in apartments and other multifamily residences, businesses, schools and government agencies -- boosting their total charge per unit to $3.83.
The district board meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Fremont district office, 43885 S. Grimmer Blvd.
About 350 customers have contacted the district to complain about the hike, Wadlow said.
"People say, 'You asked us to conserve and then you want to raise rates?'" he said.
"For most people, it doesn't connect that if you get less of something, you end up paying more -- it's counterintuitive," he said. "But our model is different from most business models."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.
What: Alameda County Water District public hearing on surcharge to offset drought-related budget gaps
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: District office, 43885 S. Grimmer Blvd., Fremont
Information: 510-668-4200 or www.acwd.org