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As Rawlins water levels decrease, city officials say residents could face fines 

Row of buildings and trees in the distance.
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The City of Rawlins is reporting that residents are using more water than what is flowing into the water treatment plant.

Rawlins has enforced water restrictions since this spring, which includes things like only watering lawns once a week. The restrictions were implemented after infrastructure issues and drought caused water flows to be dangerously low.

Residents are using about three million gallons of water a day, but flows in the treatment plant are at about two million gallons. Mira Miller, spokesperson for the City of Rawlins, said the main source of water is a natural spring. There are backup water reservoirs, which is what the city is depending on now to make up the deficit, but that water is dirtier and the treatment plant cannot process it efficiently.

“There's a lot of confusion, like, ‘Oh, the reservoirs are full or mostly full, why can't we just use that water?’ But that water is so turbid that we can't just treat just that, we have to mix it in with the spring water to not just totally clog up the plant,” Miller said.

Miller said water levels were okay up until recently. She said it was likely that the colder, wetter spring and early summer meant people were using less water to water lawns.

“Then July hit, and it's hotter out, it's drier out,” she said. “People's lawns – maybe they weren't watering at all and it was doing okay – now they see their lawn suffering, it's a lot more tempting to water more.”

Miller said people who are overusing water will first receive a warning. But after that, it’s a $300 fine. According to a press release, if water use does not go down the city will declare a ‘Limited Water Use,’ meaning all outdoor water irrigation will cease. Currently, the city has stopped watering all parks and cemeteries.

Rawlins is in the midst of overhauling their water infrastructure, but it is going to cost $20 million and could take up to five years. The latest update is the city will be revamping the Water Pretreatment Plant, which has been out of commission for years.

“That's one of the things that will change the situation, probably more drastically,” Miller said. “If we can run a pretreatment plant, we can clean the water we have access to that is more turbid out of the river, or that's been sitting in reservoirs.”

Contracted engineers said in a report that the pretreatment plant will not be online until at least next year.

As of now, Miller said water restrictions will remain in place for the remainder of the summer.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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