August 3, 2022 |

The whole state knows the story now. The City of Rawlins uses old wood stave pipes to deliver drinking water from the springs south of town to residents. Governor Mark Gordon spilled the beans at last week’s gubernatorial debate. The governor talked about the pipes in the most negative of ways.

Pictured above: Workers constructing wood stave pipe, ca. 1900, near Seattle. Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives/

The governor’s comment piqued our curiosity and we researched the subject. As shocking as it might sound, wood pipelines have not always been the stuff of “horror stories.” In the 19th century they were a modern-day wonder. Wood stake pipelines became popular after a notable 1883 installation in Denver, Colorado, and were widely used until at least the 1920s. Wood stave pipes have been used in Los Angeles Hollister, Palo Alto, Menlo Park and San Rafael, some of the most glamorous and high tech areas of California. Wood pipelines can last indefinitely if the right materials are used, they are installed properly and maintained throughout their life. Advocates of low-tech solutions even say wood has real advantages in some circumstances over metal.

For instance, Rawlins will spend three-quarters of a million dollars to protect 32-miles of shiny new steel pipeline from corroding, something you don’t have to worry about with wood. If the planks stay soaked, they’ll remain as good as new. Mira Miller with city said the wood pipeline held together with metal binders like a barrel, is more amazing than horrific.

That said, Rawlins has a problem because the wood pipeline – and much of the rest of the system –has suffered from poor upkeep. The cost of repairs is significant. The city is using $738,000 in federal ARPA stimulus funding to replace 10,000 feet of the wood stave pipeline with PVC. Some of the money will also will be used on repairs to newer, steel water transmission pipeline.

The replacement project is part of the Phase 1 repairs to the water infrastructure. In addition to the ARPA grant, city council in September authorized a $812,000 loan from the general fund for Phase One work. Another $1.2 million is being taken from a wind energy impact assistance fund for both Phase 1 work and for mobilizing the pre-treatment plant that has been out of service.

The city also received a $675,000 state grant in June to prevent the new steel transmission line from corroding. The official term is cathodic protection.

The funding overview is available in a water report released by the city Tuesday. In all, Rawlins has secured $3.5 million from various funding sources to cover a range of repairs and improvements to the water system. The city is also seeking a USDA loan to rural communities to cover future costs city officials know are coming.

The real horror story is not the 12-inch diameter wood stave pipes which served the city well for a century or more. It is the years of neglect that now is costing millions of dollars and forcing residents to cut back on the amount of water they use.

City Manager Sean Metcalf said information, like the funding overview, about the water system will be included in a new weekly update staff is making available to the public.

The first water report released yesterday included 14 updates about the system. For instance, the report says that despite the difficult situation the city finds itself in now, Rawlins holds water rights that exceed its historical water usage.


Related: Rawlins progressing with water infrastructure repairs

Related: Rawlins water system suffers catastrophic failure

Related: Issues with Rawlins water system present for years

Related: Water emergency: Interview with Rawlins officials

Related: Rawlins officials tour problem areas along water pipeline

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