Rawlins’ water emergency past but still far from resolved

RAWLINS — Life may seem back to normal for residents in Rawlins and Sinclair after a critical failure of the local water system, but the problem is far from being solved. 

It began March 3 when the system failed and people were notified the area’s water tanks were at “critical levels” and asked to limit their water use. Even so, the tanks were depleted, causing a low-pressure event that led to a boil-water advisory. 

According to a City of Rawlins “Water Infrastructure and 2022 Critical Water Event Report” released March 30, it’s estimated it will take three to five years to make all of the necessary repairs to the water infrastructure. The report states the communities use about 900 gallons of water a minute during the winter, about 1 million gallons a day. 

During the summer, the report states that even with conservation, customers will use 2,800-4,000 gallons a minute, or 4-6 million gallons a day. 

“As of late March, without the repairs made in the Sage Creek Basin to the 10,000 feet of wood stave pipeline, we are averaging 1,500 gallons of flow between springs and wells,” the report says. “Although flow will increase with the wood pipeline replacement and with the spring thaw, you can see that we are currently significantly short of meeting our lowest typical summer demands.” 

The report forewarns potential shortages for summer. 

“The reduced flow will be more problematic in 2022 as our reservoirs are not full, due to our repairs this winter,” according to the report. 

Public Works Director Cody Dill said replacing the old wooden pipeline is critical not only  to addressing the recent failure, but also to upgrading the system for future use. 

“We are anxiously awaiting the completion of the new 10,000-foot water line at the Sage Creek Basin,” he said. “We are hopeful that by replacing the wood stave with PVC we will be able to bring more water into our treatment plant so we can have a little more irrigation this summer. However, this project won’t be completed until (late) June, so we need to be extra cautious until then.” 

The report also states that the city’s water is safe, the treatment plant is working and people can drink the water “without concern.” 

That doesn’t mean the city is out of the woods. People also should expect water restrictions, and the current water restriction ordinance is being reviewed and will likely be updated. 

“If we don’t follow these restrictions while repairs are being made, we will not be able to meet water demand,” the report says. “In that case, the EPA will likely require that we build a $10-plus million chemical-heavy water treatment plant, which would be prohibitively costly.” According to the report, residents have since December been restricted to well and reservoir water during the time repairs are made to the 32-mile transmission line. 

“The city’s water treatment plant was barely making enough water to meet the city of Rawlins and town of Sinclair’s daily water supply needs,” the report cites as one factor that contributed to the failure. “As a result, storage was depleted in the tanks.” 

Since last summer, Rawlins has been “discovering and sharing information on the fragile state of our infrastructure which brings water from our springs and wells into our water treatment plant,” it says. “The resulting reduction in water supply caused both the March boil water advisory and the summer 2021 water restrictions.” 

Rawlins began and funded the recent emergency repairs and applied for $11 million in grants, along with revamping its maintenance and operating plans. 

Water and Utilities Superintendent Bud Dimick said getting through five days of the boil order was a community effort. That’s needed going forward as well. 

“We really appreciate anything and everything our community can do to help conserve water,” he said. “Although we are filling our reservoirs, at this point we are not close to supporting reduced watering without having turbidity notices or boil-water advisories. Please take water conservation extra seriously through June.” 

Concerning the repairs that will be done to the water infrastructure, the city has begun the phased process that includes emergency repairs. Other items of focus included in the report the following:

  • Repairs to the city’s 32-mile pipeline to the water treatment plant, including key repairs to blowoffs, air release valves and cathodic protection. This could include the replacement of large sections of pipe. 
  • Replacement of the springs collection infrastructure in the Sage Creek Basin, including wood-stave pipelines throughout the basin, spring boxes and other upgrades. 
  • Creation of a comprehensive and understandable operations and maintenance manual for the water system, then performance and tracking of the necessary processes. 
  • Development of better protocols for handling water breaks and other complications when tank levels are low. 
  • Bringing the pre-treatment plant online, which includes operations and maintenance planning, training and buying necessary supplies and equipment. 
  • Design and build of a new raw river water line to the cemetery with capacity for possible future expansion. 
  • Update of the water treatment SCada system, which gathers and analyzes data to ensure processes are working correctly and issues are resolved. 
  • Replacement of the ductile iron water main that runs from the water treatment plant to Rawlins. 
  • Evaluation and repair/replacement of tanks in the city’s tank farm. 
  • Review and amendment of applicable city ordinances pertaining to water use and restrictions. 
  • Assessment and prioritization of any in-town infrastructure repairs. 
  • Research of potential funding and incentive programs for reduced water use by homes and businesses.