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AUSTIN -- In addition to a rate hike for the second year in a row, the Austin Water Utility is also considering adding a drought rate that would go into effect on customer s bills when Austin hits Stage 3 water restrictions.

The drought fee, as well as the rate hike, is intended to offset the debt at Austin Water Utility. The utility is losing millions as customers spend less money on water while trying to conserve.

We did a great job of doing what they asked, and now they're saying they didn't meet their cost because we didn t use enough water. I don't even know what to say about that, said Austin landscaper Blake Garrison.

Garrison, along with thousands of other Austin water customers, are upset rates are increasing for the second year in a row.

Austin Water Utility is expected to be about $27 million below again this year on the water side, and about ten million dollars below on the wastewater side, said AWU Assistant Finance Director David Anders.

This year s rate hike would cost the average homeowner an extra $4.84 per month.

As for the proposed drought rate, there are four options: including a fixed fee of $4 a month for customers in stage 3 and $12 a month for customers in stage four.

It could go into effect and then once that Stage 3 goes away, then that surely would be reduced, said Anders.

Anders says the rate hikes would pay for infrastructure costs.

We do have fixed costs that are about 80 percent of our total budget.

Whether you use 100 gallons of water a day or a thousand gallons of water a day, the cost to the city is still the same, but the revenue to the city begins to drop off, said Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

KVUE asked Mayor Leffingwell if city council is looking at other ways to save money before approving rate hikes.

I realize that it doesn't seem fair. I personally will be looking at ways to mitigate those rate increases by finding savings elsewhere in the water utility, Leffingwell said.

However, council is expected to approve the rate hike this summer. They have not looked over the drought rate proposal yet. It is still in the public input stage.

Austin is currently under Stage 2 water restrictions. Experts predict we could hit Stage 3 water restrictions by July.

At that point, the lake levels would have a combined storage of 600,000 acre feet. Currently there is a combined storage of 731,841 acre feet in Lakes Buchanan and Travis.

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