BELLA VISTA, Calif. -

Frustrated water customers gathered to air their grievances in Shasta County.

More than 20 people showed up to the regular meeting of the Bella Vista Water District. The first hour at Monday’s meeting was open for public comment.

Much of the discussion centered on the shockingly high bill for many customers’ water usage and the high penalties.

Board members took questions and answered what they could. Each of them attempted to sympathize with those in attendance, explaining that they are customers too and are feeling the pinch.

Chrissy Grotting took a huge hit on her latest bill, incurring roughly $400 in penalties. She, like many residential customers, had hoped for clearer, prior warning before being tacked with the charges.

"It wasn't sent as a separate notification. I received a separate notification two and a half months after the fact I was on a ration,” she said.

Grotting was shocked to learn of her massive water bill in March and April.

“Had I known I was on a ration, I would've cut back. It's that simple,” she said.

Other residential customers are just hoping to avoid this mess altogether.

"Just trying to watch the usage and so forth to keep under the allotment,” said Steven Cook. “I'm on an allotment every two months - on a two month billing period - and if you don't stay under it you go into a three stage penalty program and it gets pretty expensive."

District officials said April 28 in an open meeting at Shasta College they were able to pull some water from the Anderson-Cottonwood Irrigation District. The allocation rose from 50 percent up to 80 percent for municipal and industrial water usage.

But in terms of agriculture usage it is still a struggle.

"Unfortunately our allocation for agriculture is still zero from the [Bureau of Reclamation] so we're going to give them basically 80 percent of the average residential use,” said board president Jeff Steppat in April. “We have a supplemental water program if they want to grow crops they can purchase water and we will find it for them."

The Shasta County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously May 6 to declare a local emergency because of the drought.