Skip to main content

Wheatland water tower slated to come down

News Letter Journal - Staff Photo - Create Article
The sound of a gentle waterfall can be heard at the base of Wheatland’s Black Mountain water tower. The tower has been leaking so long that marshland grasses are growing where the stream of water trickles toward a trench that directs the water across the access road toward nearby ag land. The ground is too saturated to allow work trucks close enough to repair the leaks. Photo by Lisa Phelps, Platte County Record Times.
Lisa Phelps with the Platte County Record Times, via the Wyoming News Exchange

WHEATLAND — It is happening. The 23-year-old water tower located in the Black Mountain Subdivision on the southwest side of Wheatland is going to come down sometime in August.


The water tower has been a point of controversy from its initial installation. Some townspeople thought it was unnecessary, but the city council at the time was thinking of future expansion and development.

Current Wheatland mayor, Brandon Graves, said it was a good thought by the former council, as there has been development over the last two decades, including at least 48 homes, a nursing home, church, and a school.

Within one year of its construction, however, the water tower started experiencing leaks.  Although the leaks were fixed as they occurred, over the years they became a more frequent occurrence.

When he became involved as a member of the town council in 2008, Graves said the then seven-year-old tower was already starting to show signs of fatigue.

The 2010 council attempted to once again call in a 20-year warranty on the tower by contacting the company that installed it, only to find out the company had gone bankrupt.

The town continued to repair leaks and at one point installed a new glass bead liner in the tower, but according to Graves, “At some point we crossed a line in the sand where the cost to maintain was more expensive than to tear it down and build a new one.”

Graves said the town had put out requests for bids several times over the years, and while there were contractors who looked at the tower, not one single bid was ever submitted to try to fix the leaking of the tower.

“It’s been a nightmare from the word go,” the mayor said. “There has been a stupid amount of money put into repairs and testing to make sure there is a good, clean water supply.”

In 2020, the council commissioned an engineering firm to conduct a comprehensive master plan of the town’s water and sewer systems and water towers.  The firm was to come up with a way the water supply from the east side of town could connect via a “redundant loop” with the water supply on the west side.

“There was no connection at all with the water systems across the interstate,” Graves explained.

The plan for a redundant loop will ensure there is an additional source of water on either side if there is ever a life-health-safety event that requires it.

The engineer’s report was presented to the council, which adopted it in September 2023.

In the report prepared by Civil Engineering Professionals, Inc. (CEPI) of Casper, the water tower was identified as “high priority.”

This was a key piece needed for the town to apply for grants to help with the cost of constructing a new water tower. The plan at that point was to obtain grant funding to build a water tower alongside the current one, then once it was operational, tear down the old one.

But then December’s sub-zero temperatures dramatically increased the leaking of the tower – by two to three times.

“This changed its classification from very high priority to emergency,” said Ray Catallier, civil engineer for CEPI,  who is overseeing the water project in Wheatland.

The catastrophic failure of the tower prompted the town to seek emergency funding from the top five elected state officials on the State Loan and Investment Board (SLIB.)

In their January meeting to consider applicants for Mineral Resources Grant funding, the SLIB board approved the emergency application to include teardown of the tower and stabilization of the ground that has been saturated with 23 years of water seeping into it.

Graves said the town has been doing its due diligence to seek funding aside from state money.

“The SLIB board told us they’d help us, but we’ve got to help ourselves – and we’ve done that,” he said.

In addition to raising water service fees seen as “low” by the Wyoming Water Development Commission, the town has budgeted sixth penny funds to help pay for the water tower project, and Wheatland clerk/treasurer Candy Wright sought other grants.

Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland, sought funding from the Wyoming Water Development Commission’s omnibus bill and the American Rescue Plan Act but was unsuccessful.

In June, funding for reconstruction of the tower was granted by the SLIB, with additional ARPA funds controlled by the governor slated to fill any monetary gaps.

The Plan

Graves said the engineer’s report being conducted prior to the catastrophic failure of the tower this winter “luckily” had the town set one step ahead, contributing to the ability of Wheatland being able to obtain funding.

“We are one step ahead, not because we planned it, but we are pseudo-ready to proceed with plans,” he said in an interview last week.

Catallier explained that the plan shifted slightly after the water tower became an emergency priority. Rather than stabilizing the ground and constructing a tower beside the current one, the three wells supplying water to the tower have – in the last few months – been re-fitted with new pumps and controls to enable them to directly feed into the water system, bypassing the tank.

There are pressure sensors and variable speed drives that will maintain a constant pressure for residents, acting much like an on-demand water system to maintain a quality level of service for residents of Wheatland.

The redundant loop will be the backup to supply water since there will not be a reserve supply.

Testing of the constant-pressure water system will occur the last week of July, “to make sure what looks good on paper will work in reality,” Catallier said.

After the engineer and Rick Keck, superintendent of Wheatland’s water and wastewater systems, are satisfied the wells are providing water as planned, the bolted steel water tower will be drained, then brought down – sometime in mid-August.

A geophysical study will be completed and the ground stabilized; then finally, a new welded-steel tank will be constructed with an estimated completion date in the fall of 2025.

“There shouldn’t be any noticeable changes in water pressure [with the transition], and in some cases there may be an improvement,” Catallier said.

The safety of residents has always been a priority, according to Graves. He added, there have been many lessons learned with this chapter in the town’s history.

“Cheaper is not always better,” he said. “This time we’re making sure we are using a reputable company who will be around to service what they sell us. CEPI has a good reputation, and they have been good to work with.”

The mayor extended his appreciation for the team at the town. He said in addition to the time he, the council, and Wright spent lobbying on behalf of the town, Wright put a lot of time and effort into writing the grant applications.

Graves added that Keck used old-fashioned homegrown ingenuity to tweak the design for the constant pressure valves, which the engineer “really liked” and is using in his plans.

“It’s a very integral part of the process. Keck’s got an ‘I can do it’ attitude and it has served the people very well,” Graves said.

This story was published on July 10, 2024.

--- Online Subscribers: Please click here to log in to read this story and access all content.

Not an Online Subscriber? Click here to subscribe.

Sign up for News Alerts

Subscribe to news updates