The Shoshone Municipal Pipeline marked a milestone recently: 20 years of delivering fresh, high quality water to communities in the north Big Horn Basin.
Water began flowing from the then brand new water treatment plant west of Cody and into the pipeline on Oct. 14, 1991. According to an article in the Oct. 17, 1991, Lovell Chronicle, water entered the Cody water lines on that Monday and was expected to reach Byron, Lovell, Deaver and Frannie later that week.
Since the tap was turned, the pipeline has delivered more than 21 billion gallons of water from Buffalo Bill Reservoir to the 17 participating agencies: the municipalities of Cody, Powell, Byron, Lovell, Deaver and Frannie and the customers on the Northwest Rural Water District in the Heart Mountain, O’Donnell, South Fork, Deaver/Frannie, Lovell Rural, Sage Creek, North Cody, Cooper Lane and Garland areas.
All of the treated water produced has been of much higher quality than called for by current EPA standards for drinking water, the Pipeline Joint Powers Board said in a prepared release. Results of all water tests are available at the pipeline offices at 50 Agua Via in Cody, and consumer confidence reports containing water information are distributed by each of the cities and towns and the Northwest Rural Water District by July 1 of each year.
Anyone with questions about any of the tests is welcome to contact his or her local water department or call the pipeline office at 527-6492.
Former Lovell mayor John Nickle was one of the founders of the pipeline project, along with Cody mayor Dorse Miller and Powell councilman Lloyd Snyder. Also active in the planning stages were Frannie mayor Bryan Lee, Deaver mayor Hiram Beaver and Byron mayor Alan Bair. Chet Blackburn represented the rural water users.
Lovell had been seeking a source of higher quality water for many years. An effort in the late 1970s that included an active local committee, Nickle said, investigated the possibility of tapping into the artesian wells north of Cowley that the Town of Cowley uses for water. Lovell looked into a pipeline from the artesian source but at a cost of $53,000 per mile for the pipeline and an estimated project cost of nearly $2.6 million, the Lovell mayor and council opted to look in another direction.
Nickle said that several of the communities needed a better source of water and/or were nearing the end of the lifespan of their municipal water plant. Cody had good water from Buffalo Bill but needed a new water plant. Powell, Lovell and Byron got their water from the Shoshone River, Deaver obtained water from Deaver Reservoir, and Frannie used water from an artesian well now used only for raw water.
“A lot of the hard water in the river comes in after it leaves the dam out of DeMaris Springs west of Cody,” Nickle said, noting that the spring adds mineral water to the river water.
“Everybody had water softeners,” he said. “The water was OK to drink, but it was as hard as anything. We had a one-inch copper line coming onto our property and a three-quarter-inch line to our house and it would get to the point where there was a pencil-sized hole in the line that the water could flow through. We had to acidize it periodically.”
Nickle, Miller and Snyder started meeting with state officials, including the Wyoming Water Development Commission and started to develop a plan to obtain a quality, long-term, reliable source of water. The plan was formed to tap into Buffalo Bill Reservoir.
The long-time project culminated with the dedication of the water plant west of Cody on Sept. 14, 1991, and the first flow of water one month later on Oct. 14.
Big Horn Basin officials first started thinking about the pipeline project 10 years before it was completed. Former Cody mayor Miller said he met on April 10, 1981, with then Byron mayor Mary Jensen “about trying to solve the water problem,” Miller told the Chronicle just before the treatment plant dedication in September of 1991. “And this is what the thing evolved into. That (meeting) was the first stirring of this project.”
Miller gave credit to a number of people from the communities served by the pipeline who made the project happen including Jensen and Bair of Byron, Herman Fink and Nickle of Lovell, Lee of Frannie, Beaver of Deaver and Snyder of Powell. Lee noted that Anabelle Cozzens represented Byron for many years on the joint powers board, and Don Richards has represented Lovell for many years. Lee still represents Frannie.
The $55 million project was funded through the WWDC, the Wyoming Legislature’s Omnibus Water legislation and special legislation.
During the funding process, Nickle said, Bryan Lee sold the project to a legislative committee when he stood up and told the committee that the water in Frannie had a small amount of radioactive material in it and he didn’t like the idea of kids growing up in Frannie glowing like streetlights.
“That convinced them,” he said, chuckling. “All of a sudden there weren’t many more questions about the project.”
Lee said that’s a true story, saying he told the committee, “We don’t need street lamps in Frannie because our babies glow in the dark.”
He said the Frannie well water contained radioactive salts from formations the water flowed through on its way from the Pryor Mountains.
“It did make an impression,” he said.
Lee said the best thing about the project and its driving force was that all of the communities worked together and shared the burden equally.
“We all went in together and shared equally in the cost,” he said. “It was a cooperative effort.”
He said the project was certainly worthwhile.
“I represent Frannie, and it’s been a struggle to survive,” Lee said. “Without infrastructure, a small community like that is doomed. It’s been a good board from start to finish.”
Nickle agreed, noting, “This is the best project I’ve ever worked on as far as being a benefit to the communities in the Big Horn Basin.”
He said the project is part of the Town of Lovell’s longtime effort to build for the future by developing enough infrastructure to allow for growth. He said he and subsequent administrations prepared for a population of 5,000 or more when planning projects.
“Personally, I rated as the five most important things: 1) People being safe and secure in their homes; 2) an adequate, good-tasting, clean water supply; 3) a good sewer system with good lagoons to clean the water; 4) quality streets with curb and gutter; and 5) good parks and recreation.”
By David Peck