Town Public Works supervisor Gilbert Archuleta operates the backhoe as Roy Perino acts as spotter as they dig through frozen ground Tuesday morning, Feb. 5, to reach a raw water line that broke as a result of freezing. It’s one of two lines providing water to the town.
Avalanches that blocked two creeks nearly choked off Silverton’s water supply in recent days, but the town crew reported Wednesday morning that the crisis had passed and the town’s 800,000-gallon water tank is filling again.
The town crew struggled for 12 days to keep water flowing to businesses and residences in town, but by late Tuesday night, the Bear Creek raw water line back in service and the Boulder Gulch line was also performing satisfactorily by Wednesday morning.
At one point, the town crew had to use the fire department’s water truck to ferry water to the plant to keep the town’s supply adequate.
And the town crew put in long hours under miserable conditions clawing through frozen ground in the struggle to keep the water system floating.
“What we’re pretty sure happened is that there was an avalanche up above the headgate at Bear Creek,” said Town Public Works Supervisor Gilbert Archuleta. “That stopped the water supply which in turn froze up the water line.”
The water line enters Silverton through the Anvil Mountain subdivision then heads up Reese Street. However it is buried as shallow as only 3.5 feet to avoid underlying water mains and service lines.
“We took hot water and a steam cleaner to thaw it,” Archuleta said.
“This same thing happened 11 years ago, so we had put in clean-outs in specific places so we could get back in there,” Archuleta said. “But this time it was frozen more solid. We had to dig a couple of extra cleanouts to get at it.”
Meanwhile, the Boulder Gulch water line also “had issues up there,” and was down to a trickle, Archuleta said. He figures that too was a result of an avalanche.
Archuleta said Wednesday that he put in 164 hours over the past 12 days, and other town crew members put in 150 hours.
The Bear Creek water line was installed in 1978 using an emergency DOLA grant following the Lake Emma disaster, when the lake flooded the Sunnyside Mine.
Archuleta said the areas most prone to freezing are at the intersections, particularly at 10th and 11th.
Archuleta said some 65,000 gallons per day were trucked from the lower part of Silverton to the water plant for four days during the peak of the crisis. He noted it was all filtered, just as if it would have been had it come from the raw water line.
Archuleta described Monday night as “heartbreaking.” The Town Crew had thawed out the line at 10th Street and Reese, working until 10:30 p.m. But when the line was pressurized again, it gave out at 11th Street.
But by 9:30 p.m. Tuesday night, the Bear Creek line was up and running.
And even the Boulder Gulch line is back to normal.
“Just by luck this morning, when we went up to check the water plant, whatever had been blocking Boulder Creek has opened up,” Archuleta said. “So we’re getting full water now.”
Archuleta sent “a big thanks to the people who brought us snacks and hot drinks out there. It was a big help.”
Town Administrator Jason Wells said it was “an all-hands-on-deck situation, but it looks like we’ve turned the corner.”