By Robert Jordan

DUBLIN -- The cost of drinking water in two East Bay communities could get more expensive if the Dublin San Ramon Services District's board approves a proposed rate increase in April.

The district -- which provides drinking water and sewer service to Dublin and Dougherty Valley and sewer service to Pleasanton and parts of San Ramon -- proposes raising the fixed cost for drinking-water customers with five-eighths-inch meters in Dublin and Dougherty Valley from $17.12 to $31.75 every two months. Other drinking water customers whose meters range in size from three-quarters of an inch to 10 inches could see an increase between $17.47 and $1,450.63.

As part of the proposal, customers will see a $9 temporary infrastructure charge disappear from their current bill and a new consumption-rate structure designed to benefit customers who use 10 units of water or less per billing cycle. Each unit of water equals 748 gallons. Despite the 85 percent change in the service charge to residential customers, district staff and board members said the average residential bill should rise by $1.35 per month, or $2.70 per billing cycle.

"We are zeroing out the temporary infrastructure charge and incorporating it into the rates to make things better in the long run," said Dawn Benson, who was elected to the board in 2010 and now serves as its president. "We are making sure we are stable for the future, and it should mean about a $1.35 more for residential accounts."

The increase in the fixed service charge will help the district increase its water-rate revenue from the current 13 percent to 25 percent and result in the district having a more reliable funding mechanism that could help prevent another temporary infrastructure charge and help the district pay for the upkeep of its water system, Benson said.

The district implemented an $18-per-billing-cycle fee in 2009 to almost 15,000 of its customers to help the district meet its annual $2.7 million debt payment for various construction projects after the economic downturn brought construction to a halt. The temporary infrastructure charge was reduced in 2011 after the district refinanced a large portion of its debt from a variable interest rate to a fixed rate and connection fees rebounded from $250,000 in 2009 to 13.5 million in 2011.

"This new rate structure will provide more stabilization for everyone, and for residential customers it will only cost about $1.35 a month," Benson said. "We want to stay within the state's edict of (reducing consumption) by 20 percent by 2020, and this makes people more consumption-conscious."

According to district figures, the average residential customer will experience the $2.70 increase to his bimonthly bill by averaging out the summer, winter and regular billing cycles and staying within the new lower consumption tier.

The new rate proposal includes changes to the tiers for consumption. Currently, residential customers pay anywhere from 83 cents to $5.15 per unit of water based on the number of units consumed and whether or not the district is in a water shortage phase. As part of that structure, residential customers pay 83 cents per unit of water for units one through 20, $1.01 per unit for units 21 through 34 and $1.14 per unit for units higher than 34. The new system charges 50 cents per unit of water for one to 10 units of consumption per cycle. The cost for units 11 to 34 is $1.05 per unit, and the cost is $1.40 per unit afterward.

"With this plan, customers can reduce their rates more by using less water, and yet the district can still pay its bills and predict on a certain amount of income coming in," Benson said. "And, unfortunately those that use the most water are going to have to pay more."

The district is planning four public meetings about the possible rate increase, starting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, before it could make a final decision on April 16. The district board meets at the Dublin San Ramon Services District's main office at 7051 Dublin Blvd. in Dublin. Meetings will also be held on March 5, 19 and April 2. For more information on the proposed rate increase and to calculate how much your monthly bill could increase, visit www.dsrsd.com and click on the proposed water rates and charges.