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Water tapped illegally in Zumbrota

By Sandy Hadler, contributor

ZUMBROTA — Zumbrota City Council members learned about a serious water meter violation at the April 3 meeting.

City Administrator Neil Jensen and Mayor Rich Bauer explained that the city’s water department officials had been informed that a home had been plumbed so that the sprinkler system is ahead of the water meter. It is possible that the water usage violation existed for 10 years.

Jensen noted in a memo that the sprinkler system usage for an average home in Zumbrota is 32,000 gallons of water per month during the summer, at a cost of $65 to $70 per month. On average, he said sprinklers are used about six months each year.

Councilor Brad Drenkhahn asked for details concerning the infraction. Jensen refrained from expanding on the information he had shared because the people involved are not yet aware that the city knows about the violation. He encouraged council members to determine a standard penalty for violators, since there are other ways to bypass a meter.

Jensen said the city’s options include recovery of the monetary amount of the stolen water, requiring restitution and charging a criminal fine or suing the owner of the home for the illegal water usage in conciliation court.

“Byron (Minn.) had something similar happen when a business bypassed its meter and stole water,” Bauer said.

Byron now imposes a $1,000 penalty for bypassing a home or business water meter for any reason, and the offender may be issued a criminal citation. Byron had a water usage study done in 2011 by the Department of Natural Resources and learned that the state can levy a fine, if the amount of water coming out of a well is not within 10 percent of the amount of water that residents have paid for.

Jensen said he wanted the fine large enough to deter someone else from doing the same thing.

Council members decided that Zumbrota’s code should mirror Byron’s model. City staff was directed to incorporate Byron’s water usage ordinance and fine into Zumbrota’s ordinance, and to amend the fee schedule to include the $1,000 penalty.

“When we amend it, we will talk to these folks (who are in violation of Zumbrota’s water usage code),” Jensen said.

A vote appears likely in a few weeks.