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Rawlins likely to hike water rates, as residents limit their water use 

A small creek runs through a prairie landscape with a cloudy sky overhead.
Caitlin Tan
Wyoming Public Media
Looking out near the Sage Creek Basin about 32 miles from Rawlins. There is a natural spring in this area where Rawlins sources much of its city water.

Residents in the City of Rawlins will likely have to pay more for their water in the near future, due to expensive fixes to a water delivery system riddled with issues.

Over the last year, there have been water restrictions including not watering lawns and boil water advisories. In March, the city even ran out of water. City officials have since found major issues with the 100-year-old infrastructure, including leaks, corroded pipe and faulty blow-off valves. Additionally, some speculate that the city is receiving less water from a nearby natural spring, its main source of water, due to drought issues that are plaguing the West.

As the city begins to invest $20 million into fixing the water delivery system, they will have to raise water rates. In fact, Wyoming’s State Loan and Investment Board requires it in order for the city to qualify for loans.

Carl Brown, the president of gettinggreatrates.com, was hired to analyze the utility fee structure. He recently told the city council that if rates stay the same they will be in the red.

“You’d be in the hole by about $20 million,” Brown said. “Now, of course you’re not going to do that. I’m pretty sure Rawlins cannot afford to do that.”

Brown suggested Rawlins shift to a fee structure called a “cost-to-service” model.

“This is the prime industry standard for utility rate analysis,” Brown wrote in his report. “Quite simply, if a customer causes the utility to incur a cost, that customer should reimburse the utility for that cost. Your current water rates are not structured that way, so the structure needs to change.”

Additionally, rates would go up on average by 50 percent. So, a current water bill of about $45 would increase to about $65. It is also likely bills would increase by about four percent annually to account for inflation. The national average is about $70.

“Everybody that lives in Rawlins knows that we’re going to have to do a rate increase, and it can’t be real small,” Rawlins Mayor Terry Weickum said at a recent council meeting. “We’re just struggling with the right amount.”

The City Council has not voted on a change yet.

Current water restrictions in the city include only watering lawns once a week. City officials say water flows are about half of what they were last year at this time. While updates to the water system have already started, there were some setbacks with additional valve failures. The city anticipates updates to last for three to five years.

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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