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Mills adopts emergency measures to replace water wells and avert possible usage restrictions

CIty of Mills Water Treatment Facility (MillsWy.gov)

CASPER, Wyo. — The underperformance of two water intake wells in the City of Mills was declared an emergency at a special meeting January 17, freeing the city to secure a contractor and head off potential water usage restrictions later in the spring.

WLC Engineering and Surveying engineer Matt Williams told Oil City News that siltation was blocking the intake screens on two of the five wells drilled at the Mills Water Treatment Facility.

Williams said this is a common problem with age, and the wells’ performance had been decreasing for years. Williams estimated the last time new wells had been drilled was about 27 years ago.

The process of permitting and seeking bids to replace the two wells began in January 2021, Williams said.

“All the responses we received back indicated that not a single driller would be able to get to the Mills wells until late fall, early winter,” Williams said in a memo to the city.

In addition to the pandemic-induced backlogs and material shortages, Williams said there was a shortage of contractors able to handle the scope of the project.

Williams said Lander-based Atnip Well & Pump Service, Inc was the only qualified contractor available to address the situation in the time frame.

Williams advised the council that with low snowpack and spring approaching, the city may have to institute water restrictions as early as March.

“This is about the time of year [water systems managers] start to get nervous,” Williams told Oil City. He explained that the city’s water is drawn both from wells and directly from the river. Spring storms may swell the river, but they also stir up sediment that forces the facility to rely on the wells.

The cost to replace the wells is about $70,000, Williams said.

Wyoming statute requires public works projects exceeding $35,000 to go out to a general bidding process.

On January 17, the Mills council declared the situation an emergency of “vital public importance” and cited two Wyoming laws in its resolution authorizing the mayor to directly contract for the services.

Wyoming statue [15.1.103] grants cities and towns the authority to “perform all acts in relation to the property and concerns of the city or town necessary to the exercise of its corporate powers.”

The resolution also cites “Article 13, Section 5 of the Wyoming Constitution, [which] further provides that municipal corporations ‘shall have the same right as individuals to acquire rights by prior appropriation and otherwise to the use of water for domestic and municipal purposes,’ and that the legislature shall allow for governing bodies the right to acquire ‘such water as may be necessary for the well-being thereof.'”