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Breakdowns That Crippled Rawlins Water Systems Could Happen Anywhere In Wyoming

in Wyoming infrastructure/News

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

The widespread water system failures that shut down Rawlins schools and businesses last month could happen almost anywhere in Wyoming, according to a state water expert.   

Mark Pepper, executive director of Wyoming Association of Rural Water Systems, told Cowboy State Daily that many of the systems bringing Wyoming residents drinkable water are old and in need of renovation. 

Pepper said he hoped the infrastructure spending packaged approved last year by Congress would provide necessary funding to replace aging systems before it’s too late.  

“Rawlins is not unique,” he said in reference to a series of events in early March that deprived Rawlins and Sinclair citizens of potable water. “You can throw a dart at a map and hit any (ailing water system).”  

Rawlins had been repairing a 32-mile spring water transmission line since December and replacing its freshwater collection system, made of 108-year-old wood pipes, with PVC. 

The repair process deprived the city’s water supply tanks of their usual freshwater influx, to the point of “barely making enough water” to meet citizens’ needs – a hazard that was prolonged by COVID-related supply shortages, according to a March 30 Rawlins water infrastructure report.

When the time finally came to turn the 32-mile spring line back on, a water line in Rawlins suffered what the report called a “full circle break” and allowed water to escape the system at three locations for more than seven hours, draining the freshwater tanks even more.  

An integral part of the city’s water pumping system stopped working at the same time, prompting officials on March 3 to recommend that residents boil their water before consuming it. The recommendation was lifted on March 8 after two tests taken 24 hours apart showed no issues of concern. 

Rawlins announced in the report that the city’s water is drinkable, but that residents can expect water restrictions moving forward. The city also said the repairs to water line breaks and other weak points in the system could take three to five years.

Since last summer, the report said, Rawlins already has identified multiple leaks, miles of corroded pipeline, faulty blow-off valves, an antiquated controls system, and a prevalence of 108-year-old wooden pipelines.   

‘Perfect Storm’ 

Pepper called the simultaneous issues in Rawlins a “perfect storm.”  

“Most water lines have about a 60- to 70-year useful life,” he said, but much of Wyoming “has very old, aging infrastructure.”  

There are roughly 334 community water systems in the state, said Pepper, none of which can be fully funded with just consumer water rates. Of those, municipalities own about 96 and can apply tax funds “and whatever else they have in their general funds” to keep up with repairs.  

The other two-thirds of those systems, owned by special and water districts and joint powers boards, “just have to rely on their rates and supplemental revenue” by accruing debts or applying for grants through organizations such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture or State Loan and Investment Board, Pepper said.  

Community water systems, he continued, “have to be supplemented in some form or fashion” by additional funds – an obstacle that makes stockpiling money for a full replacement less than feasible.  

The imminent delivery of state revolving funds for infrastructure upgrades, provided by a federal infrastructure package, Pepper said, are “going to be a Godsend.”

“It’s about triple the amount of money that typically comes to the state of Wyoming through the state revolving funds,” and should enable Wyoming entities to rebuild “a lot of our buried infrastructure,” he said.  

The three- to five-year timeline to fix Rawlins’ and Sinclair’s systems, Pepper said, is realistic, “because Wyoming has a very short construction season,” and because “you’ve got to time (digging and replacement) so you don’t get too many people without water for too long.”  

Supply chain shortages and inflation won’t hasten the already years-long effort, Pepper speculated.  

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Rawlins Hospital Hit With Ransomware Attack Over Weekend

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A hospital in Rawlins on Sunday became the latest Wyoming institution to be hit with a ransomware attack, officials announced.

However, a spokeswoman for Memorial Hospital of Carbon County said problems created by the attack should be resolved by Wednesday.

Hospital spokeswoman Stephanie Hinkle did not specify which of the hospital’s systems were targeted in the attack, but added that Medhost and Athena, the hospital’s two electronic health record systems, were not compromised.

Hinkle did not respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Wednesday. It was not immediately clear how the ransomware attack occurred or who conducted it.

Manual back-up processes have been implemented at the facility to ensure patient care is not impacted. The hospital’s IT department and external IT vendors were working to resolve the issue and ensure all systems were reactivated quickly.

Hospital officials estimated the problems caused by the attack would be resolved within 72 hours.

Cyber Wyoming co-founder Pat Wolfinbarger told Cowboy State Daily that the hospital’s IT department should be commended for its quick and efficient work.

“Being back up and running in 72 hours and not having patient health information affected makes for a pretty good recovery,” he said. “In President [Joe] Biden’s recent warning about the possibility of a Russian cyberattack on critical infrastructure, which includes hospitals, he said it was our ‘patriotic duty’ to invest as much as we can to improve technological defenses. But even with tons of technological investment, we have to remember that our organizations are only as strong as each person in the organization.

“For every company, the challenge is constant vigilance when it comes to cyberattacks and ransomware attacks,” Wolfinbarger continued. “But even with that vigilance, companies can’t eliminate their risks, but they can reduce the impact if something happens.” 

Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington last June was hit with a cyberattack on the school’s administrative network, disabling its computer, phone and email systems for more than 24 hours.

The University of Wyoming last year also saw a cyberattack during virtual Black History Month event when people began sending racist and pornographic messages to disrupt it.

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Rawlins Officials Appeal Rehire Of Fired Firefighter Who Threatened 911 Caller

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The city of Rawlins announced it will appeal a court decision that ruled it must rehire a firefighter who was terminated last year for threatening a 911 caller.

In late October, the Carbon County District Court ruled that Rawlins firefighter Stephanie Schofield should be reinstated to her position and that the city should pay all her back wages. Schofield was fired in May 2020 for what officials perceived as threats toward a 911 caller, according to Bigfoot 99 radio station.

However, following the Rawlins City Council’s executive session on Tuesday, the councilpersons decided to appeal this decision to the Wyoming Supreme Court.

According to court records shared by the radio station, Schofield was called for a lift assist at 2:30 a.m., but then made profane remarks to the dispatcher about the caller.

“I’m going to kick her [expletive]. She is a [expletive] pain in the [expletive], if she would just go to bed like any other normal person at a [expletive] normal hour,” Schofield said on the call, before saying she would head to the caller’s home.

The station said the caller is a “severely” disabled woman who requires the use of a wheelchair and has trouble speaking. She frequently calls 911 for lift assists and other medical situations.

Schofield had apparently visited the woman’s home twice earlier that week, finding that neither time was necessary for emergency assistance.

She also apologized to the dispatcher for yelling.

While city officials did not actually believe Schofield would hurt the woman, the comments coupled with her prior disciplinary record prompted them to fire her.

Schofield argued that her due process was violated when she was fired.

In June 2020, former city manager Dustin Ziebold reversed Schofield’s termination and instead placed her on paid administrative suspension. But in November, the Civil Service Commission reversed this decision and terminated Schofield for a second time.

The radio station reported that following her terminations, Schofield was hired by the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office in February. She is also an arson investigator with another organization.

She told Bigfoot 99 that she was disappointed that the city would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, but was confident that the highest court in the state would rule in her favor.

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Rawlins High School Cancels All Homecoming Activities Due To COVID ‘Situation’

in News/Coronavirus

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Rawlins High School officials canceled all of the school’s homecoming-related activities late last week due to a COVID “situation” at the school.

School officials announced the cancellation of all homecoming activities on Thursday afternoon on social media, one day before the football game, due to the unavailability of players who were either sick with COVID or quarantined due to exposure.

This meant that the team had to forfeit its game to Douglas High School, and the homecoming parade and dance were canceled.

The high school administration intended to reschedule some of the activities at some point in the future.

In an interview with radio station Bigfoot99, high school principal Marnie Garner would not call the reason for the homecoming cancellation an “outbreak” and declined to say how school administrators found out about the COVID “situation” among the football players.

Garner told host Cali O’Hare that despite the cancellation, Rawlins High students were taking their lack of homecoming in stride and understood that due to the pandemic, some things were out of people’s control.

She added that the high school has seen a decrease in active COVID cases, with the exception of the situation with the football team.

The football game against Lander slated for later this week is still under question, as it was unclear if enough football players would be out of quarantine in time to play.

As of Friday, Carbon County had 69 active cases. Just under 37% of the county is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Carbon County School District No. 1 does not have a mask mandate in place, although district superintendent Mike Hamel warned of this possibility at the beginning of the school year. He also urged parents to make sure their children were frequently using hand sanitizer and to encourage their children to wear a mask.

“I want parents to have a little lead time that should our numbers continue to rise we will be reinstituting a mask requirement for all students and staff,” he wrote. “We would also look at reinstituting other protocols such as limiting access to facilities for outside agencies and parents, requiring masks at events and limiting fans at events. We are hopeful to keep in-person instruction available to everyone but we will be making plans to transition to a virtual platform should such a step become necessary.”

Hamel also encouraged parents to talk with their health care providers about the parents or their children getting one of the COVID vaccines, if they are eligible.

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Rawlins Has Giant Manure Problem

in News/manure

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Politicians are often accused of spreading manure (often described using a more colorful term) but city officials in Rawlins are now wrestling with what to do with actual manure. Tons of it.

It turns out that Rawlins is becoming a really popular dumping ground for manure. According to our friends over at Bigfoot 99 in Saratoga, the amount of manure dumped at the landfill has more than doubled in the past three years.

Is that a problem? After all, landfills would seem like a great place for manure.

Well, if it was 100 pounds of manure doubling to 200 pounds of manure, maybe it would be no big deal. But the numbers are a bit larger than that.

In 2017, the Rawlins landfill accepted 408 tons of manure. In the last eight months, the landfill has accepted 865 tons of manure.

If you are thinking “holy crap,” you’re not alone. That’s a lot of manure.

Where is the increase in manure coming from?

Public Works Operations Manager Danielle Gross is stumped.

“I have no idea,” she told Bigfoot 99. “I don’t know if people were building it up or if people were mixing it with fertilizer and stopped. I’m not 100% sure.”

If the municipality could just pile it up in the landfill like a miniature crap-filled Mt. Everest, that could be one thing.

It could be a tourist attraction. The National Outdoor Leadership School could open a branch in Rawlins focused on mountain climbing. Maybe it would attract a ski resort for winter sports.

But that’s not in the cards. They have to haul it somewhere that accepts manure. Like farms.

But it has cost the city more than $70,000 to haul the manure to a farm so far this year.  That’s a lot of money.

So town officials are debating whether they should start charging for the dumping of manure. In order to break even, the town would have to charge $82 per ton.

Officials are hesitant to pursue the fee because the service has always been free in the past.

Why not use the manure for ground cover?  The DEQ ruled that the manure is not of high enough quality for such a use.

What about compost?  

Officials are looking at both Rock Springs and Sheridan for their composting programs.

In the meantime, officials are sending letters out to individuals who are dumping their manure at the landfill to get them involved in the process of reviewing options.

At some point, the discussion could be brought up as an agenda item for the city council.

To hear an excellent interview discussing this issue, join our friends at Bigfoot 99 here.

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Visit Rawlins! Rawlins is a Vibrant Community With Plenty To Do And See

in News/Tourism

Rawlins has much to offer visitors. Stop by one of our historic sites such as the notorious Frontier Prison or the Carbon County Museum. Take a trek downtown for shopping, dining, drinks and more.

While you are downtown consider taking the downtown mural tour. This downtown educational walking tour celebrates the history of Carbon County through murals created by local artists. You will also want to check out the local events like SummerFest & the Carbon County Fair & Rodeo.

FRONTIER PRISON Built around the turn of the century from sandstone milled in the county, the prison housed criminals until the new state prison was built in 1981. On the National Register of Historic Places, the prison hosts a variety of activities and events with tours available from June through Labor Day weekend.

CARBON COUNTY MUSEUM The Carbon County Museum houses an extensive collection of photographs and artifacts including boots, an ashtray and everyday items crafted from the anatomy of notorious outlaw Big Nose George.

HISTORIC DOWNTOWN RAWLINS  A nationally designated historic district, downtown Rawlins is rich in 19th century architecture. Named for General John A. Rawlins, who commanded an expedition through the area, Rawlins traces its origins to the late 1860’s and the early history of the Union Pacific Railroad.

A 60 – 90 minute historic walking tour provides visitors with a fascinating glimpse into Rawlins’ colorful past. Walking Tour guides can be picked up at the murals.

RAWLINS RECREATION CENTER This modern recreation center offers a host of indoor activities including three full-size basketball courts, a walking track, racquetball, handball courts, and a full indoor shooting range.

Old Union Pacific Train Depot Located at 400 West Front Street in Rawlins. Built at the end of the 19th century, it was given as a gift to the City of Rawlins and then refurbished at the end of the 20th century. There are now meeting rooms and a kitchen designed to accommodate small to medium sized groups.

Rochelle Ranch Golf Course Golfing at Rochelle Ranch Golf Course is 18 holes of outdoor  scenery at its best. This prairie golf course has a restaurant, bar, driving range and on-site golf pro.

Great views and a good chance of seeing wildlife right on the course make this an adventurous golfers dream. The course is 7,925 yard in total and borders lakes and wetlands. The rates are reasonable and the atmosphere is casual.  This course open around April 1 each year. 307-324-7121

Rawlins Outdoor Shooting Complex Besides Trap, Skeet and 5 stand shotgun shooting, we have a 15 shooting position 300 yard rifle range, 1,000yard black powder rifle cartridge range and we are currently constructing a 10 position pistol range. Open to the public 307-324-PLAY

Rawlins provides a variety of dining options and a welcome atmosphere. Cuisine types you can discover include American, Asian & Thai, Italian, Mexican, Fine Dining, Specialty and more. Scroll through our list of available dining options or click here to view all dining options.

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