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Water issues still plague Rawlins as the city raises rates to help fix the system

A body of water surrounded by sagebrush and scattered snow on a cloudy day.
Caitlin Tan
Wyoming Public Media
One of Rawlins’ and Sinclair’s backup water reservoirs in the Sage Creek Basin area. Three reservoirs are used for backup water, but that water is much dirtier and harder to filter at a rapid rate.

Rawlins continues to face water infrastructure issues. This comes about two years after the city ran out of water for a week.

This month, Rawlins city officials found three holes in the main line that carries water into town for residents from a natural spring 32 miles away. It was fixed and the city still had water, but as Rawlins Public Works Director Cody Dell said, the line is in “fragile condition.”

“It's very badly corroded. At any time on the steel section of it, we could have another crack, break, another hole,” Dell said.

That, on top of other infrastructure issues and drought, is why Rawlins ran out of water for several days in 2022. In the months following, residents had to follow water restrictions, like no outdoor irrigation and a maximum of one load of laundry per day per household. Some water restrictions were in place last summer, too.

Since then, some improvements have been made to the infrastructure, like updating the water pre-treatment plant. It can now treat the water quicker to keep up with demand.

Luckily, water availability for residents this summer shouldn’t be an issue, given those improvements already made and because of decent snowpack.

“The wind kind of moves the snow across the landscape and it accumulates and sits in these really deep snow drifts and snow banks, and then that's what kind of trickles into the city system,” said Carl Smith, Rawlins’ city engineer.

But for longterm water consistency, there’s still a lot more fixing to the entire system that needs to be done. It’s going to cost around $80 million.

Rawlins is counting on federal grants and loans to help overhaul the infrastructure, ideally fixing the transmission line in two years. But to qualify, the city has to have more capital in its Water Fund. They’re doing that by raising city utility rates.

In 2022, water rates went up on average by $20 per month. Just this spring, they were bumped up again. Utility rates, including sewer this time, went up from about $80 to $120 a month. The city said without this money, it will not be able to provide reliable water.

“After decades of deferred maintenance and lack of savings, we need to come together and commit to addressing the essential needs of the City,” reads a post on the city website.

Rawlins is not alone in their problems. Nationwide, water pipes are aging and in “serious need” of replacement or upgrades.

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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