For nearly a week in March, Rawlins residents were not able to drink city water. School was canceled and businesses closed. Fire suppression was compromised, and while the city was able to meet the …
For nearly a week in March, Rawlins residents were not able to drink city water. School was canceled and businesses closed. Fire suppression was compromised, and while the city was able to meet the most urgent needs of the local hospital and Wyoming State Penitentiary, the situation was dire.
“We’re not even able to do maintenance on our water lines right now because they are in such terrible shape. It is just that bad,” Rawlins City Manager Shawn Metcalf said.
From March 3-8, because of a co-occurrence of repair issues and breaks in the city’s water infrastructure, some of which still consists of 108-year-old wooden pipelines, the city of Rawlins had to tell residents to boil any and all water before consuming it.
City officials say that if awarded, they would use a windfall of federal money promised to states by the Biden administration to fix ongoing infrastructure issues.
Under the recently approved Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, based on the traditional state revolving fund formula, Wyoming can expect to receive $335 million over the next five years to improve water infrastructure across the state and ensure that clean, safe drinking water is available in all communities, according to the White House.
The funding will be distributed to projects across the state.
“Having gone through the water crisis that we did, not having water to our many residents and (being) still in a very precarious position, I would think we have a good opportunity for receiving funding,” Metcalf said.
According to city Grant Manager Andrea Hammond, federal infrastructure money has been earmarked for roads and bridges, railways, broadband expansion, work on the electrical grid, water and sewer infrastructure and airport funding.
“Wyoming will get a portion of that, which (we) will have to compete for through grant applications,” Hammond said.
Any water infrastructure funding would go toward fixing the city’s water service delivery program, which includes replacing wooden pipelines and a 50-year old collection system, Hammond said. The repairs will likely cost around $15 million to $20 million, she said.
A request for proposals for addressing the water emergency has not yet been opened, so Hammond said it would likely be fall or later before any grants are made. But with the support of local legislators, the city is hopeful.
“Water is life. We need it for hydration, for cleaning, for bathing, for watering livestock in our very rural area,” Hammond said. “We didn’t have water for the parks, we didn’t have water for fire suppression. We had to fill up a tank … to meet the immediate needs of the hospital and the prison, but it really put us in a precarious position for people’s health and safety. Businesses and schools had to shut down, there was a loss to the economy and loss to educational opportunities there. Without having toilets, children could not go to school.”
The city’s water infrastructure also serves the town of Sinclair and the Sinclair Oil Refinery, which uses water for industry processing, so the impacts of the crisis outreach city limits.
“It is affecting all different aspects of our lives,” Hammond said. “This is the biggest windfall since the New Deal. We really want to take advantage of the windfall of money and invest it wisely.”
Officials also are considering applying for electronic grid funding to build an electric vehicle charging station in Rawlins.
“That is something we are considering in terms of bringing tourists off I-80 so they can charge up, stay in a hotel and spend some money in our local economy,” Hammond said.
On its 10-year capital improvement list, which is not fully developed, Metcalf said the city’s infrastructure needs are projected to include $21 million in general fund work, $28 million in water improvements, $18 million in sewer needs and $1 million for the landfill.
“We are like many other municipalities that can’t really afford (these things) and need this assistance to take care of the community’s needs,” Metcalf said.
Hammond said the city hopes to circulate petitions to gather community support for its projects and is encouraging residents to call their legislators to advocate for Rawlins’ needs.