Water Main Bursts in Rawlins But No Water Restrictions Issued Because Of Huge Snowpack

Even though a water main burst in Rawlins over the weekend, water restrictions have been eased in the town because of a historic winter snowfall which left a huge snowpack in Wyoming’s Snowy Range.

Leo Wolfson

June 12, 20233 min read

Rawlins water main break 6 12 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Water is flowing again in Rawlins. 

On Sunday, a geyser erupted from a downtown street, the result of a broken water main.

Although the break wasn’t a result of increased water pressure or quantity of water flowing through the city’s pipes, Rawlins city spokeswoman Mira Miller said it was a much bigger breach than the city is accustomed to.

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Mike O’Brien, utilities supervisor for the city of Rawlins, said the break was the result of old age and wear and tear to the 12-inch cast-iron water pipes. Rawlins has some of the oldest water lines in the state.

The break, which gushed water more than 100 feet, was repaired around five hours after it burst.

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On Monday, the city announced loosening of its water restrictions after more than a year of sharply curtailing usage.

After a total failure of the city’s water system in March 2022, the high mountain springs that supply Rawlins with its water also were running at around a third their typical rate, prompting the city to initiate lawn watering and other restrictions.

The city only allowed residents to water after 6 p.m. and before 10 a.m. one day a week last summer.

The situation was so dire the city initiated an up to $750 fine for those who broke the rules. No fines were issued, although around 40 warnings were given out, Miller said.

The total failure led to a five-day boil water advisory. The failure stemmed from replacing outdated pipes and water infrastructure, straining under the weight of old age and drought conditions. Some of the pipes were more than 100 years old and made of wood stave.

 The estimated $20 million it’s going to cost to fix Rawlins’ water woes has been a challenge for the city. In November, the city was denied a $7 million request to the State Loan and Investments Board to receive a piece of $50 million in American Rescue Plan Act money earmarked for critical sewer and water projects.

Restrictions were also put in place in mid-summer 2021, limiting residents to watering three days a week. In the past, there were no restrictions on watering. 

This large hole is left from a water main failure Sunday in Rawlins.
This large hole is left from a water main failure Sunday in Rawlins. (Courtesy City of Rawlins)


A historic snow year bolstered water levels and snowpack throughout the state, including Rawlins, this past winter. As of mid-April, snowpack was 203% above normal in the Sage Creek Basin, which feeds the springs that run into Rawlins. Miller said high spring runoff is still in full effect.

As a result, residents can now water their lawn as much as they like from 6 p.m. to 10 a.m. each day.

Although conditions are good for now, the city said restrictions will be reevaluated and could change throughout the summer, especially as the temperature increases and flows decrease from the springs. Miller describes it as an “ongoing, fluctuating” situation.

Rawlins, like the entire Rocky Mountain region, has been experiencing more than 20 years of drought. 

​​Extensive repairs have been made at the city’s pretreatment plant over the winter and in May it was completed, Miller said. The pretreatment plant will serve as a backup line and allow the city to use more water from the North Platte River if needed. 

But for now, Miller said the city has plenty of water from the springs to rely on.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at leo@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter