Ten homes in Mitchell haven't switched to a 'smart' water meter. The city council is considering doubling the fine

While there are just 10 homes in Mitchell that lack a smart meter, Public Works Director Joe Schroeder said a city worker has to physically check each of the residents' water usage to calculate billing amounts.

Shown here is the smart water meters on a residential home in Mitchell. City officials are proposing to double the fines for residents who do not have smart water meter that provides the city with daily and monthly water usage. (Sam Fosness / Republic)

Mitchell residents who do not have a “smart” meter that electronically communicates monthly water usage to the city could face a heftier fine.

During Monday's Mitchell City Council meeting, the eight-person board considered a resolution that would double the monthly fine for residents who are without a meter to $200. However, the council opted to table the resolution and will revisit it in six months.

There are 10 homes in Mitchell that lack a smart meter. Public Works Director Joe Schroeder said a city worker is sent to each of those homes monthly to check their water usage and calculate billing amounts. Increasing the monthly fine is the city’s way of encouraging the remaining residents to implement the device.

“There is also one meter where the remote that we have to go to the residence and read is not working, and we cannot gain access to the house or shut the water off,” Schroeder said.

The devices allow the city to electronically track daily and monthly water usage of each residence using city water services. Costs of smart water meters hover around $150 to $300, depending on the make and model of the device.


To the council’s surprise, the respective residents who were without a smart meter throughout 2021 have fulfilled their monthly payments and fines in a timely manner.

Another key benefit of smart meters is their ability to detect possible leaks or pipe breaks. However, Schroeder said the process of pinpointing leaks and pipe breaks is complex and challenging.

Carroll Torberson, a Mitchell resident, found that out the hard way.

During the council’s discussion on the meter fines, Torberson detailed an issue he experienced at his house due to a pipe break that resulted in a loss of 41,000 gallons of water in a four-day time span. After returning home from a trip, he came upon a sign on his front door informing him that the city had shut his water off due to an abnormally high volume used in a relatively short time period.

Although his water was shut off after a city official detected a sudden large amount of water use coming from his residence, Torberson said the interior of his home was still destroyed.

“When I was out of town, it took four and a half days before anybody found out my water was running,” he said. “I had 41,000 gallons of water come out of my bathroom and take out my whole house.”

Schroeder explained the smart readers do not have an alert system that detects excess, or abnormally high water usage. For the city to discover a potential water leak or pipe break from a home through the smart meters, Schroeder said a city official has to notice it through periodically monitoring residences' water use.

“Those issues have to be manually found, so once that was discovered we sent our crews out to investigate and shut the water off when they found they weren’t home,” Schroeder said.


Council member Marty Barington was under the assumption that the meters were equipped with an alert system. After learning about Toberson’s issue during Monday’s meeting, Barington requested the city to consider implementing an alert system for the smart meters to detect any excess water use.

“I’d like us to take a look into what it may cost or how we go about upgrading these to have an alert system. That was one of the big benefits I thought that came with these,” Barington said.

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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