After months of putting up with brown lawns and dirty cars to conserve water, many residents of the drought-stricken Southeast are now paying sharp rate increases from utilities scrambling to make up lost revenue.

Kelly Randle, director of the water utility in Gainesville, said he had to raise rates or cut costs because the system's debt is set to rise 12.5 percent and revenue is down 7.2 percent.

Atlanta's utility, struggling to pay for a $4 billion update of its sewer and water infrastructure, heard from angry homeowners this week protesting a plan to raise customer rates by 27.5 percent this year and about 12.5 percent each of the next three years.

Gwinnett County also warned it could raise rates if revenue — down 3 percent — keeps dropping.

Drought-inspired rate hikes and surcharges are common in Western states, but it's a new concern for utilities in the Southeast used to an abundant water supply.