'Don't see any issue going forward,' says Mitchell's water supplier on meeting city's growing demands
While city leaders are pursuing a multimillion-dollar secondary water source, an official with B-Y Water District says it can meet growing daily water demands.
MITCHELL — As city leaders are searching for a secondary water source to meet Mitchell’s growing demand, the city’s current water supplier says it can fulfill the needs for years to come.
Considering Mitchell has been exceeding its maximum daily capacity of 2.6 million gallons of water more frequently over the past few years, it’s motivated city leaders to pursue a secondary water source.
Terry Wootton, general manager of B-Y Water District – which has served as Mitchell’s sole supplier of water since 2003 – said the Tabor-based entity is capable of providing Mitchell with more water as demand increases.
“In the 20 years we’ve been supplying Mitchell, there’s never been a day we couldn’t supply water. I don’t see any issue with that going forward for the future,” Wootton said. “As every system grows, additional things need to be done to supply additional water. Whether it’s pumps or additional lines.”
During recent water discussions held by the Mitchell City Council, Public Works Director Joe Schroeder noted that B-Y has never refused to provide Mitchell with water when the city exceeds its maximum daily capacity of 2.6 million gallons. However, there is a caveat that comes with it.
According to Schroeder, the city is charged a higher rate for water when it exceeds the maximum daily capacity, which is written in the contract agreement. And as of lately, it’s becoming more common for the city to request additional water from B-Y, especially in the summer months when use reaches as high as 4 million gallons. Schroeder says the city exceeds the 2.6 million gallon per day water capacity roughly 25% of the year.
“During the summer, our average is roughly 2-3 million gallons per day. Our highest ever recorded was 4.41 on July 6, 2017,” he said.
While Wootton didn’t speak for other South Dakota cities, he said, “most times,” a city relies on a single source of water like Mitchell currently does with B-Y.
Brookings and Watertown, two South Dakota cities with a little over 22,000 residents, solely rely on aquifers that tap into groundwater via wells to supply its residents. Brandon also gets its water solely from nearby aquifers. Yankton, a city with a population a little over 15,000, uses the Missouri River as its only water source. However, Yankton doesn’t rely on a long pipe to transport water like Mitchell does due to it being located along the Missouri River, reducing the need for a safety net backup source.
There are several larger sized cities in the state that do have at least two water sources, including Huron, a city with a little more than 14,000 residents, and Aberdeen.
The city of Huron uses a pipeline system that taps into the Missouri River as its primary water source, while an aquifer with groundwater wells serves as the secondary source. Aberdeen utilizes nearby lakes, rivers and wells for its water sources and has shown interest in building a pipeline to connect to the Missouri River.
Schroeder said Rapid City is also looking into a potential Missouri River pipeline project that would add another water source.
Looking into the handful of options
There’s no question Mitchell needs to secure more water for the future, but deciding the best avenue to bring more water to Mitchell is what city leaders are mulling over.
Among the options that Schroeder pitched to council members in mid-January were building a pipe to connect with Fort Randall Community Water District, expand facilities with B-Y Water, upgrading the Lake Mitchell Water Treatment Plant to use lake water and building a pump station along the Missouri River in Chamberlain.
Cost-wise, expanding and upgrading facilities with B-Y Water is one of the cheapest options, coming in at roughly $40 million. City officials are recommending building a pipe to connect with Fort Randall Community Water for $60 million, which would give Mitchell a secondary source of water from the Missouri River.
While utilizing B-Y Water for an additional source is the cheapest option on the table, Schroeder explained that it would make the city reliant on one water supplier. By choosing Fort Randall Water, Schroeder said it would provide an additional 2.5 millions gallons of water per day and give the city a safety net if any emergency breakdowns or catastrophic events disrupted B-Y Water District’s facility.
“There would be the possibility for more. We would be looking at 38 miles of transmission line from their plant near Platte to Stickney. Twenty to 60 years from now, I don’t think anybody would say we made a bad choice,” Schroeder said of pursuing Fort Randall Water.
Is there enough water in the Missouri River?
Taking an additional 2.5 million gallons of water from the Missouri River led to some concerns among the council over whether the river has enough water to supply Mitchell and other cities in the future.
Unlike the Colorado River in the southwest that's struggling to maintain water levels and causing a crisis for cities in the region, both Wootton and Schroeder emphasized that the river has plenty of water to supply South Dakota cities for many years to come. Wootton said the state is guaranteed a set amount of water from the Missouri River.
“The amount of water that’s currently being pulled out of the river through the state of South Dakota doesn’t come close to that number that was promised before the dams were built many years ago,” Wootton said, although he didn’t have the official number available.
With a healthy supply of water in the Missouri River, paired with good drinking water quality reports, more South Dakota cities are exploring potential avenues to tap into the Missouri River to supply its residents.
Rapid City, the second largest municipality in South Dakota, is mulling over a potential pipeline project that would allow the city to tap into the Missouri River despite it being at least 150 miles away from the West River community that boasts a population over 76,000.
In 2021, the Aberdeen City Council approved a feasibility study that aimed to investigate a potential 90-mile pipeline extending south into the Missouri River.