Rawlins Bounces Back From Last Year's Water Catastrophe To Actually Open Splash Pad

Although the city of Rawlins had to observe severe watering restrictions last summer, a substantial winter snowpack has drastically improved the city’s water situation, allowing staff to be OK with opening a long-planned splash pad.

Leo Wolfson

July 17, 20234 min read

After years of planning and fundraising, a new splash pad opened in Rawlins earlier this month.
After years of planning and fundraising, a new splash pad opened in Rawlins earlier this month. (City Of Rawlins)

The opening of a town’s long-anticipated splash pad wouldn’t typically draw much controversy, but the opening of a new water feature in Rawlins may make a bigger splash, if only for its timing.

It was only a little over a ago the city of Rawlins was hit by a municipal water crisis that led to a series of strict water-saving measures, Residents were only allowed 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. 

Coming off a substantial winter snowpack that drastically improved the city’s water prospects, the city that still faces a water system that will take millions of dollars to fix is celebrating the opening of its new splash pad. 

While the optics of opening a splash pad so soon after critical water shortages may not be the best, the new water feature isn’t a drain on Rawlins’ water resources, City Manager Tom Sarvey told Cowboy State Daily.

“We’re in really good shape right now as far the water’s concerned,” Sarvey said.

The new splash pad in Rawlins was delayed a couple years because of supply chain and other issues.
The new splash pad in Rawlins was delayed a couple years because of supply chain and other issues. (City Of Rawlins)

Free Flow

A sign that the Rawlins water situation is much better than a year ago, residents can now water their lawns as much as they like from 6 p.m. to 10 a.m. each day.

Mira Miller, Rawlins city spokeswoman, noted that the splash pad will use 5,000-10,000 gallons of water, an amount no more than what is consumed by one city block of houses, she said. The city typically uses 2 million to 3 million gallons of water on a typical summer day.

Splash pads are “not as big of a water user as it might seem,” she said.

The splash pad is open four days a week on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

It’s a feature that’s been years in the making. The splash pad was supported by residents in a 2015 public survey, the same year the project was officially approved. 

But water availability has only deteriorated in Rawlins since that time, with watering restrictions put into place in 2021. 

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

The roughly $200,000 cost for the project was split between the city and public fundraising, with the public shouldering $120,000 of the total cost.

“Without that buy-in from the community it wouldn’t have happened,” Miller said.

Work on the Rawlins splash pad in 2021.
Work on the Rawlins splash pad in 2021. (City Of Rawlins)

Deteriorating Infrastructure

Not everyone in Rawlins is happy with the splash pad.

Rawlins resident Jerry Schmidt said he will never follow another water restriction in the city.

“This just doesn’t make sense to me,” he posted in response to the splash pad in a local Facebook group. “We have a bad water system but then build a water splash pad? Totally ludicrous.”

Sarvey said the city still has concerns about the quality of its water transmission line, a piece of significantly outdated infrastructure dating back to the early 20th century. He said any break to this line would significantly cripple the city. 

“A lot of our worries right now about water where they currently reside is just in the condition of the transmission line,” he said.

Sarvey said the quantity of additional water used by the splash pad will be insignificant to the future well-being of the transmission line.

“Five or 10,000 (gallons) isn’t going to fatigue the line,” he said.

Sarvey views the splash pad as an important project for the city so it can provide residents with another place to gather and for children to recreate. Since its opening July 8, he said the facility has been “heavily used.”

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

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter