By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Facing yet another shortfall of usable water, the City of Rawlins is done warning people to conserve and now will charge a $250 fine for water over-usage.
Dispatched Monday evening, the announcement comes nearly five months after the city experienced a severe water systems failure in early March.
“If you are aware of places that are not following water restrictions, you can report them” to city staff, reads a social media posting by the city.
A few citizens were not thrilled with the directive.
“WHAT!!” Pam Smith, Rawlins resident, commented on the post. “Turning your neighbor in for a water violation!!”
Smith did not respond to a message requesting additional comment by publication time.
Other commenters suggested that the city should monitor water usage itself and check for leaks.
A city official warned via Facebook post Monday evening that the town has been consuming about three million gallons per day, up from two million this spring.
“If use does not go down, ‘Limited Water Use’ will likely be declared, and all outdoor irrigation will cease,” the statement reads.
Let It Die
To repair the water system fully could take three to five years, the city announced this spring.
Town residents have been content with mediocrity too long, according to lifelong Rawlins resident Mike Sisneros.
“I love Rawlins,” said Sisneros. “I was born and raised there. But we’ve seen it settle for mediocrity, and it’s getting old; the city as a whole, its citizens, its government – it seems like all we do is settle.”
Sisneros said there have been signs of serious water issues for more than a decade.
Following the warnings and restrictions, Sisneros has decided to let his yard die, and said a lot of residents have made the same decision.
Home Values At Stake
As many residents let their lawns die to avoid shower limits and other last-ditch conservation orders, Mike Teal told Cowboy State Daily he’s growing concerned about future home values in Rawlins.
“There are some people that think we shouldn’t be watering (at all),” said Teal. “I call them the water police.”
He said that if he put his home up for sale, he’d like a good lawn to market it.
Teal’s home is not for sale, but he tried a couple years ago to sell it. Teal changed his mind when he started a relationship with someone in Rawlins.
“What if I did want to put my house on the market and the lawn is just brown?” he said. “This is going to have impacts on property values I’m sure.”
Property values in Rawlins, as with elsewhere, are still inflated for now.
Teal said he’s disappointed the city didn’t address its system weaknesses earlier. He also said he’s not sure if there’s an actual legal ordinance allowing the city to fine people $250 for water overuse.
“They’re not taking care of the customers,” said Teal, referring to town residents as the city’s customers. “Nobody’s blaming anybody; just work on fixing it.”
Mira Miller, communications coordinator for the City of Rawlins, could not be reached by phone Tuesday and will reportedly return Thursday to her office to give an interview on residents’ concerns.
Miller told local radio station Bigfoot99 on Friday that the water usage hit its highest point of the summer one week earlier, during the depleted freshwater supply typical of summer weather. She also said the water storage tanks dropped from 93 percent of their capacity in early July to less than 50 percent in mid-July.
Mary Oaks, of Rawlins, told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday she didn’t know how long the town would have to endure the water shortage, but she hoped people would be kind to one another in the meantime.
She recommended conserving water as much as possible and helping each other with tips on how to be water-thrifty.
“Just band together,” said Oaks. “There’s a real problem. Let’s see what we can do to help the city get through this.”
Still making major, system-wide repairs following a March blowout of its water infrastructure, Rawlins in May ordered residents to water their lawns no more than once a week, for up to one hour total during early morning, twilight, or nighttime hours.
People also have been ordered not to let water flow into the gutters, not to wash parking lots, sidewalks or driveways; and to wash vehicles with a manual hose, only when “absolutely necessary.”
Gardens and potted plants still may be watered as needed, with manual hoses during morning, evening or night.
The city is pausing its own park and cemetery irrigation “until further notice,” but will water parks every other week in the near future. City staff also are “preparing” to hire an engineering firm to finish off the valves of a new pipeline, finalizing a $7.5 million American Rescue Plan Act grant for new system components, and is ordering new parts for its water treatment plant, according to its Facebook announcement.
The town in March suffered water systems failures that shut down schools and businesses and caused a temporary “boil water” warning.
The city had been repairing a 32-mile spring water transmission line since December. It was also replacing its freshwater collection system, made of 108-year-old wood pipes, with PVC.
During those repairs, the city’s water supply tanks were deprived of their usual freshwater influx. When the time finally came to turn the 32-mile spring line back on, a water line in Rawlins suffered a breakage in many different points. Water escaped the system from three points for more than seven hours, draining the freshwater tanks even more.
At the same time, an integral part of the city’s water-pumping system stopped working, prompting officials on March 3 to recommend that residents boil their water before consuming it. The boil order was lifted March 8.