The East Bay's largest water utility is expected to impose mandatory water rationing today for the first time in nearly 20 years to conserve depleted water supplies after two droughty years.

The 1.3 million customers in the East Bay Municipal Utility District will probably be prohibited from hosing off sidewalks, washing cars with a hose that doesn't have a shutoff nozzle or watering lawns two days in a row, among other measures.

The district's board of directors will also consider hiring a temporary "water savings patrol" and taking other steps meant to reduce water use by 15 percent. That includes possible rate hikes for all customers and surcharges for those who fail to cut their water use.

Water rationing has not been imposed by the water district since the early 1990s. But two dry years and a call for voluntary water conservation that fell short last year have drawn down the district's reservoirs to a point where it is faced with shortages.

"Our policy says we will declare a drought emergency and impose rationing," said board member Katy Foulkes. "The question is how we do it."

Next year could be even worse if it is dry. But the water district is planning for a new drought supply pipeline, the Freeport Regional Water Project, to be operating in early 2009.

The district provides water to the west sides of Contra Costa and Alameda counties, from Crockett to San Leandro. Its service area stretches east, through Lamorinda into portions of Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek and south to San Ramon.

The plan could be modified before a vote. It will be presented to the board today and calls for:
# A goal of 15 percent reduction in water use from businesses and residents.

# Prohibitions on lawn watering on consecutive days, using fountains that do not recycle water and other potentially wasteful practices.

# Hiring a "water savings patrol" to monitor water use and increase public relations and customer outreach. In all, the district's staff is proposing to hire 16 additional positions on a temporary basis to promote, enforce, manage and support the rationing program.

# Raising water rates by 10 percent and using most of its $43 million contingency fund to make up for the decline in revenues that occur when the district delivers less water.

# Levying surcharges on customers who do not get at least halfway to the conservation goal for their customer class.
For residents of single family homes, for example, the conservation target is 19 percent. If the resident conserves less than 10 percent - based on average use in the past three years - he or she would be hit with a surcharge for water used above the target.

For customers who meet the conservation targets, their bills would go down despite the rate increase.

Customers in single family residences who do not cut their water use would see their bills increase 5 percent to 10 percent due to the rate increase, plus another roughly 3 percent increase due to the drought surcharge, according to EBMUD figures.

The board meeting begins at 1:15 at the district's offices, 375 11th St., Oakland.