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Rate increase possible as water usage climbs

Mitchell's water rates could soon rise, but only by "about a can of pop a month." That's according to Public Works Director Tim McGannon, who said a rate increase would raise the bill of a typical family of three by about 60 cents per month, but ...

A water sprinkler sprays a lawn last week in Mitchell. The city of Mitchell could raise water rates by approximately 60 cents per month for each household due to increasing water usage. (Matt Gade/Republic)
A water sprinkler sprays a lawn last week in Mitchell. The city of Mitchell could raise water rates by approximately 60 cents per month for each household due to increasing water usage. (Matt Gade/Republic)

Mitchell's water rates could soon rise, but only by "about a can of pop a month."

That's according to Public Works Director Tim McGannon, who said a rate increase would raise the bill of a typical family of three by about 60 cents per month, but cover the costs to continue bringing a sufficient amount of Missouri River water to the city of Mitchell.

McGannon said the city has a contract with the Tabor-based B-Y Water District to bring in 2.65 million gallons of water per day, but the city has seen usage rise to approximately 3 to 4 million gallons per day since the $17 million water pipeline to Mitchell was finished in 2003.

Due to the rising water usage, McGannon said B-Y Water has increased operations to ensure the residents of Mitchell get their water, leaving Mitchell with two options. The city can either pay an estimated $10 million to $12 million to extend the pipeline from the Lesterville plant to Tabor, or it can pay approximately $30,000 to $40,000 more to B-Y Water annually for excess water used over the current contracted amount.

McGannon prefers the latter, and it likely wouldn't cost Mitchell residents any more than some spare change per month.

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"Yes, they wouldn't see much increase," McGannon said.

Councilman Jeff Smith agreed with McGannon that the proposal to pay a little more for B-Y Water would be acceptable, highlighting the need to ensure Mitchell has access to high quality water.

"I think the majority of the people, and I'd be there included, think if we have to pay a little bit more for the extra water that we're using and have to pay for them to keep the operations going down south for overtime, that would be my preference," Smith said. "Because there's no way that we would want to jeopardize the clean water that we have in place."

If the Mitchell City Council approves the proposal, McGannon estimated a typical family of three would pay an additional 60 cents per month on their water bill. And while the rate increase may be the best solution in the short term, McGannon isn't ruling out the possibility of building the 10-mile pipeline.

"Now if there's ever federal grant money available for something like that, we haven't given up that potential," McGannon said.

In an effort to cut down on the additional funds that may need to be directed toward B-Y Water for the continued service, Councilman Jeff Smith suggested reminding locals to be more careful with their water usage.

Smith said it would be helpful to educate the public to increase the awareness that the city is reaching the limits of its current contract

"I think it's a great idea for this time of year for the watering of lawns to put some restrictions on it," Smith said. "It just makes perfect sense, especially knowing that we're kind of at the max of our usage this time of year anyway."

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One option that's off the table is reverting back to Lake Mitchell water.

"In the early 2000s, late '90s, we had such gosh awful water out of Lake Mitchell," McGannon said. "We've improved the chemicals we use, and it wouldn't be as bad any more, but it would still be Lake Mitchell water and you would still probably have taste and odor issues."

McGannon wasn't the only one who would rather not see Lake Mitchell water running from the tap any time soon.

Councilman Mel Olson recounted the "Summer of Fish" that occurred approximately 20 years ago, a summer when drinking water from Lake Mitchell was so odorous, he said it literally smelled of fish.

"Anybody who was here for the 'Summer of Fish' would come down and throw money at City Hall to keep that Missouri River water," Olson said in an interview with The Daily Republic last week.

And Smith, who was not on the council when the city moved forward with the B-Y Water plan, said bringing high quality water to Mitchell was one of the city's best decisions.

"I think it's one of the most important decisions that was made in the city of Mitchell to make sure that we have a clean water supply and plenty of water," Smith said.

Despite opinions from both Smith and Olson against reverting back to Lake Mitchell water, McGannon said maintaining the water treatment plan in town serves a valuable purpose, even after accounting for the estimated $200,000 annual expense to treat Lake Mitchell water no residents drinks.

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The city is forced to operate the treatment plant under the B-Y Water contract, and McGannon said that portion of the project could be reviewed if the City Council plans to pay B-Y Water higher rates, but his preference is to keep operating the local treatment plant.

"I always thought it was nice to have that reserve, or that backup water source, in case something happens," McGannon said. "If there's a water main break on the 60 miles of B-Y pipeline or if their power goes down in Tabor and we're out of water for a couple of days, we have the ability to keep our citizens in water right now. So it's more than just a dollar issue, I think."

Related Topics: LAKE MITCHELL
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