Empire has confirmed there was a damaged water line on private property that has been identified, and a few other areas were still being inspected, as of April 1.
In the meantime, 98% of the residences and businesses in Empire should have water, although on April 3, the town was still under a boil order. Only four or five houses along North Main Street were stated not to have water on April 1, although officials anticipated they would regain full pressure over the next few days.
Police Chief John Stein described how, while the leak on private property was confirmed to be drinking water, it was relatively small compared to the town's overall system. So, it cannot be the sole cause of Empire's loss in water last month, he described.
One area that was under investigation on April 1 was a spot underneath U.S. Highway 40, which Stein said could be a valve that isn't shutting completely or a cracked pipe, requires further research. If it's a valve that's not closing completely, water might not be leaving the system in that location, he explained.
Stein said he couldn't guarantee it, but Empire's water woes could be a combination of the private property leak, other smaller issues, and residents' relatively high water use during last month's cold spell.
At its March 29 meeting, the Town Board of Trustees unanimously approved a declaration for “a local disaster emergency due to insufficient water resources." Town officials said the declaration is a necessary step to obtain relief funding later.
The town is still distributing bottled water at Town Hall and has a tanker available at Theobold Park.
Additionally, Mayor Wendy Koch described how Empire has brought its old well back online with a new filter. The town sent water samples to the state environmental health department, which it approved on April 1. Thus, Empire has added the well water to its overall supply.
With water service restored to the bulk of Empire, though, the demand for water resources at Town Hall and Theobold Park has decreased since the week of March 21.
“As we get the water back on, people can flush toilets, take showers, wash dishes, and do laundry,” Stein said. “It’s the drinking water that’s the big thing.”
The next steps
If crews identify additional problems on public property, such as a broken pipe or a faulty valve, Empire will have to figure how much it will cost to fix it, Stein described.
Depending on the situation, it could be something that’s relatively inexpensive and quick, or it could very costly and time-consuming. If it’s the latter, Stein said, “We will have to figure out whose water will be shut off as we fix it, and whether we can reroute (water) differently.”
The town has a couple of leads on grants and other funding it could eventually obtain to help fund any expensive repairs, especially if this situation drags on, Stein continued.
During the March 29 trustees meeting, Stein gave a quick update on the situation before the board allowed for public comment. Despite several residents’ complaints on social media over the past few weeks, only one person submitted public comment, and it was positive.
Stein said people are welcome to contact him if they have questions, comments, or concerns.
Regarding how long it took to identify at least one issue, Stein emphasized that Empire doesn’t work like Denver. In Denver, when there’s a major leak and water is gushing out onto a street, crews can seemingly repair it in hours. In Empire, though, because of the terrain, it’s harder to see exactly where the leak is to fix it, he stated.
How Empire got here
In late February, the town experienced a 150% increase in water usage over the same period last year. Because of the cold weather, the town's water supply was low as Madd Creek froze over. Residents were advised to check their plumbing and ensuring they weren’t using excess water.
On March 15, the town’s water shortages escalated. So, the town intensified its leak detection efforts, as residents were asked not to use their water March 16-17.
From there, the situation escalated to decreased water pressure, intermittent loss of water and boil order.
The town declared an emergency on March 23, which the trustees formally approved at their March 29 meeting, to assist with resources and seeking funding. Colorado’s Water/Wastewater Agency Response has been activated and is assisting, and volunteers delivered several cases of water to every residence.
Stein asked residents and business owners to continue monitoring the town’s website and social media for accurate and up-to-date information.
For non-emergent questions, comments and requests, contact Chief John Stein at 303- 257-1422 or Town Hall at 303-569-2978.